Despite its intensity, the Safdie Brothers’ film was not nominated for any Academy Awards.
The prospect of a new Adam Sandler movie is almost universally met with a chorus of groans, and for good reason. However, the Safdie Brothers’ new drama thriller “Uncut Gems” may finally break Sandler’s streak of gutterballs.
Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a slimy New York jeweler with a gambling problem who acquires an incredibly valuable opal from an African mine. Ratner navigates between aggressive debt collectors, a crumbling marriage and even NBA player Kevin Garnett to cash in on his valuable gem. As the film progresses, Ratner comes closer to both success and failure, maintaining a tone of tension and triumph.
What makes “Uncut Gems” truly unique is that Ratner isn’t a typical cool-headed action hero. Unlike a Keanu Reeves or Liam Neeson, Sandler’s character seems always on the edge of disaster, with a real chance of devastation. We see him lying and worming his way through situations in real-time, and feel all the stress that he feels. This is precisely what gives the movie its edge; the stress is greatly created by his relentless conniving.
Throughout the film, characters are constantly talking over each other and the camera never stays still or backs away from close-ups during these conversations. The film frequently throws multiple threats and situations onto its characters simultaneously, such as Ratner receiving multiple phone calls and having belligerent customers inside of his pawn shop. This creates a mood of intense anxiety that practically never fades throughout the film. Even a simple scene involving characters being locked out of the jewelry store feels intense and stressful with these techniques.
Sandler’s performance is probably the greatest part of the film; the character of Ratner is primarily what creates such an original tone for the film. Sandler’s typical weasley schtick is plucked from its past sheerly comedic setting and placed into a world that demands to be taken seriously. Ratner is simultaneously hilariously ridiculous in what he says (“This is some Middle Earth shit” in reference to the gem), and pitiful in the way he begs for the grace of others. He is the true “Uncut Gem”; his flaws and overconfidence hide the genuine and relatable man beneath. Ratner is hard to love, but he’s harder to hate.
An amazing score from Daniel Lopatin, better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, also underlies the anxiety ridden tone of the film. It turns from spaced-out synthesizers to pulsing techno beats with an atmosphere that perfectly matches that of the film.
Overall, the film is exceedingly entertaining and grips the audience’s interest through its entire runtime. It has become A24’s highest grossing film to date and has a 92 percent critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite this, the film was completely shut out from all nominations at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards. This can’t help but feel like a slap in the face to the Safdie brothers, who had been crafting the film for about a decade, and said the script went through about 160 drafts. This kind of auteurism and respect for film sometimes feels greatly underrepresented in popular awards shows, but hopefully passionate audiences can continue to be relied on to admire it.