Adam Sandler has taken a lot of knocks over the years. After getting off to a great start with many Saturday Night Live characters, the comedian began his film career with Happy Gilmore. The movie was a hit and seemed to guarantee Sandler’s place as a comedic genius. Things did not quite work out as expected, however. Sandler has released many movies over the years, but none have quite reached the heights of his first starring role. Billy Madison came close, but Sandler’s career may end up being more defined by absolute duds like Pixels and Jack and Jill.
Every once in a while, Sandler will step outside of his comedy wheelhouse. While the movies and performances have been mixed, the general consensus is he is believable in more serious fare. Uncut Gems sees Sandler tackle the role of Howard Ratner, a jeweler who seems to be incapable of living a normal life. When he enters a world involving rare stones, NBA stars, and superstitions, Howard’s bad decisions begin to mount up.
Sandler is great in Uncut Gems. The comedian tends to play characters that are over the top. This is not surprising considering his sketch comedy roots. What makes the character of Howard works so well is how realistic he is. Make no mistake about it; the character – especially his “if it was not for bad luck he’d have no luck” life is extreme. But Howard is more of a case of extraordinary personalities and circumstances. There are no silly voices or comedy bits. Howard is just a man who has the inability to make certain decisions.
This also helps the audience become more involved with Howard. He is almost impossible to root for, but it is also hard not to pity him. He constantly finds himself in trouble due to choices he has made. His life is a series of schemes and back up plans. There is never a point where anyone will cheer for him. Instead, they will constantly ask, “why?”
The plot has many branching storylines. All eventually tie into the main plot, but it can be a lot to follow. This is partially because of the chaotic pacing of Uncut Gems. Howard is constantly wheeling and dealing and the audience has to juggle all the jeweled balls with him. It brings a sense of tension to the film that is near unbearable.
This may be the biggest problem with Uncut Gems. Those expecting a mob fueled heist flick will be sorely disappointed. The events of the film may not be 100% relatable to every person watching, but at its core, the story is about a regular guy who has a problem. It has a surprisingly down to earth nature not everyone will appreciate.
The direction of Josh and Benny Safdie will also be hit and miss among audiences. The sickening tight close ups and constant fast cuts will annoy some. It is clear this is done to enhance the atmosphere, and for the most part it works. There are some superfluous moments in Uncut Gems, but the Safdies do great, if polarizing, work.
Uncut Gems is a flawed movie that is very enjoyable. It is anchored by strong performances and a very interesting story. The opening draws the audience in and keeps them on the edge of their seats. The frenzied storytelling and direction will be a turn off for some, but those who are willing to watch the film should like what they see.