Most of us have come to think of Adam Sandler as a comedy actor, performing the same light-hearted roles over and over again – a dorky jerk who turns out to have a heart. This time, however, he’s joined forces with directorial duo Benny and Josh Safdie to bring us a dark comedy, that’s more nail-biting than it is amusing. Uncut Gems is a far cry from anything Sandler has done before, but he does it masterfully.
Uncut Gems follows the chaotic life of a charismatic jeweller, after he gets his hands on a stone that could change his fortune permanently. Sandler shines in this deeply anxious role, bringing the character of Howard Ratner to life, as he attempts to pay off his numerous gambling debts by placing increasingly risky bets and making a series of increasingly terrible choices. To top it off, Ratner is going through a divorce with his exasperated wife (played by idina Menzel), who knows he’s having an affair with a member of his staff (Julia Fox).
After he lends his new stone ( a gigantic uncut opal from a mine in Ethiopa) and potential windfall to Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett (played by himself), his life is thrown into chaos as he tries to get it back in time to sell it for a million dollars at un upcoming auction. He’s simultaneously pawning off jewellery belonging to other people ( such as a ring Garnett lent him as collateral for the borrowed opal) and selling counterfeit Rolex’s (also belonging to other people) to avoid the retribution of angry mobsters who are constantly on his tail.
Ratner becomes increasingly entangled in the convoluted web he weaves for himself and as a result of his strange brand of panic and stubbornness, he becomes more and more annoying to watch. This is a film that will frustrate you as much as it will pull you into the plot which, amazingly for such a long film, takes place over only a couple of days.
If it sounds like a busy film, you’ve got the right idea. Uncut Gems is a cacophonous montage of confusion and anti-climax. The film repeatedly sets the plot up for disaster which, somehow, never comes. It’s fast-talking, action-packed, and will have you on the edge of your seat – even though you know, time and time again, that the moment you’re waiting for isn’t coming. When the tension is finally broken, one is left surprised by one’s own surprise, and yet relieved that at last, the anxiety can be over with.
According to Sheila O’Malley, Uncut Gems‘s real success is in how well it understands and depicts the nature of addiction. “On some level, the stress is the point, she writes for Roger Ebert . “The nerve endings are so frayed they need the stress. Howard is useless without panic… This is not a “cautionary tale” about the dangers of gambling. It’s more like a virtual-reality game where you step into Howard’s experience”.
There’s something extremely fresh about the way the film doesn’t pander to the audience. Nothing is predictable here, except perhaps the unpredictable. Dialogues mesh into each other in a way that will make your ears feel actual fatigue, but which is far more akin to real life than the neatly scripted dialogue we usually encounter in the cinema. It might be an acquired taste, but if you’re looking for something outside of the ordinary, it’s a good place to start. Just don’t get too excited for any single outcome or event, as you may find yourself bamboozled over and over again.
Sandler cannot be commended enough for his role in Uncut Gems, and hopefully, this is the first of many more interesting roles from this extremely, and unexpectedly, versatile actor.
Essential Millennial Rating: 5 out of 5 avocados