Uncut Gems: Stone Cold Carats

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett
Writers: Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Adam Sandler has played straight drama before, but nothing will prepare you for this adrenaline-pumped film that feels like a plunge into a vat of battery acid. It’s a wild ride made all the more disorienting by the presence of Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jittery, jaundiced Manhattan jeweler who is always on the lookout for a quick buck, be it through bad bets or shady business deals. Up to his neck in gambling debt, one step ahead of the bookie’s goons, Howard miraculously finds himself in possession of an opal-embedded rock that, he’s convinced, will enable him to finally pay everyone off. Of course, it’s not that easy.

Nor is it easy to sit through Uncut Gems, a movie that explodes from the gate with reckless abandon, then barrels through its course offering little in the way of surprise or reflection before running into the brick wall we’ve never doubted for a moment stood at the finish line. With no reward at the end, we’re left only to marvel at Sandler’s bravura performance — and that’s not quite enough to make the whole ordeal worthwhile. 

Film directors Benny and Josh Safdie are New York brothers with a distinctively New York vision — make that New York circa 1975, when you had to keep your head on a swivel, street hustlers scurried along the littered sidewalks like hopped-up rats, and only an idiot ventured down a dark Manhattan block after hours. 

The brothers’ latest movie is set in present-day New York, but that underbelly vibe throbs through every hyper-energized frame.

Everybody hates Howard, including his wife — heck, including his girlfriend — but like a black hole, he draws everyone in his unfortunate vicinity toward his self-destructive event horizon. Like them, within minutes of making Howard’s acquaintance we want to punch him right in the kisser, but we’re also held in a masochistic kind of thrall. Besides, we want to stick around to see what awful choice he’ll make next. 

Strangely, the role of perpetual loser Howard seems a natural shift for Sandler, who’s made his career playing irresponsible boobs. He doesn’t disappear into the role of Howard so much as channel the anger and cluelessness of Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison into a chasm of nervous energy. 

I’d like to see more of this from Sandler, but perhaps in a movie that doesn’t feel like the aftermath of a night ill-spent. 

Published by

Bill Newcott

Award-Winning Film Critic, Columnist, TV Host and Creator of AARP's Movies For Grownups, Bill writes for publications including National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, Delaware Beach Life, Alaska Beyond and Northwest Travel.

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