This is not your typical Adam Sandler film. In fact, I don’t believe it’s an Adam Sandler film at all. Uncut Gems really is a Safdie brothers film that just so happens to have Sandler play their main character. Why do I say that? Because the Safdie brothers, who only have directed three films thus far in their young careers, already have mastered the quick-paced style of filmmaking, to the point where they themselves are becoming the true draw to their films.
Certain filmmakers have unique styles. Directors like Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, and Quentin Tarantino come right to the front of my mind as filmmakers who have such brilliant, distinct ways of telling their stories. You don’t even need to see their names on the credits to know they were the men behind the camera of their respective films. The Safdie brothers are on the brink of joining that elite group.
If you are an avid moviegoer, then you are already familiar with their previous work, Good Time, which was one of the most underrated films of 2017. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend you do so. Their current project, Uncut Gems, just hit select theaters on Christmas Day and is certainly a gift for movie fans everywhere. Like Good Time, Uncut Gems is a non-stop roller coaster ride that will be unforgettable, for a number of reasons.
One of those reasons is the aforementioned superb filmmaking style of its creators. The Safdie brothers shot Uncut Gems to be a thrill ride from start to finish. I admit that by the end of the movie my palms were clammy and I was legitimately sweating from the tension the film created. You feel like you are right there with Howard (Adam Sandler), a degenerate jeweler and sports gambler whose greed never allows him to be complacent and simply enjoy the finer things in life he has that money can’t buy. He has Dinah, his wife (Idina Menzel), children, one of which being a son who is basically a younger clone of himself, and a beautiful home. While beautiful on the outside, it doesn’t take long to see that within its walls his home is broken due to his ineptness at being a good father. Despite having all of those things that most people would kill for, he instead is blinded by the bling of his own jewelry, which brings him money and notoriety. Howard chases all the wrong things in life, including his employee turned “side-chick” Julia (Julia Fox), who is a fast-life, seductive socialite.
Howard’s life turns upside down once he watches a show about diamonds and gems mined in Africa. He invests crazy money in a rock full of uncut gems in hopes that he can make a fortune by flipping it for a huge profit at an auction. All bets are off once the rock comes into Howard’s life, and it ends up actually flipping his life upside-down. The crazy story, which somehow manages to randomly sweep NBA legend Kevin Garnett and pop-star The Weeknd into the middle of it, along with loan shark goons, Howard’s brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian,) and street partner Demany (LaKeith Stanfield), is a tension-filled web of deception, greed and lust that only the Safdie brothers could tell.
Another reason why Uncut Gems is unforgettable is the performances of Adam Sandler and Julia Fox. The title of the film is genius because of its multiple layers of meaning. Obviously, the rock itself, which is the nucleus of the film, is literally an uncut gem. You could argue that Howard and Julia each are metaphorically uncut gems as well. Howard seems to have a good heart at his core, but has let his lifestyle create a rugged, hard-shelled exterior, while Julia would truly be a psychologist’s dream to dissect. She is a beautiful young woman, but craves attention from the wrong people in the wrong way.
But even in real-life, both Sandler and Fox showed why they are uncut gems when it comes to their craft as actors. I don’t think it’s even debatable that this was the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career thus far. It isn’t even close. I don’t believe most of us thought he had that type of dramatic performance in him. I never thought I would ever write that Adam Sandler will and should get Oscar consideration for his portrayal, but it’s the truth. I don’t believe he should win, but a nomination would be a victory and achievement in itself. As for Julia Fox – the girl never even had professional acting training prior to this role. With that being said, I thought her performance was exceptional and she may very well have a bright future ahead of her.
Uncut Gems, as well as the Safdie brothers style of filmmaking, can best be described in two words – organized chaos. Naysayers of the film may say it was all over the place and the structure was a little suspect. I would agree with that, but I see that as a strength rather than a weakness in this specific case. Howard’s life was a hot mess. There was nothing structured to it whatsoever. I’m sure the frenzied filmmaking was deliberate and necessary to accurately depict this character and tell this story.
To sum it up, Uncut Gems is fun, explosive, sexy and unique. While I don’t believe the movie itself should be an Oscar contender (although it is getting serious late consideration) due to the deep field this year, it still is a must-see and has potential to become a genre classic.
MATTER RATING: 8/10
OSCAR SCALE: 5/10 (Best Picture, Actor, Original Screenplay)
BY: CHRIS GUEST