Adam Sandler clearly is best known as a comedy actor whose recent filmography ranges from ridiculously bad to downright terrible. He's been making films for the better part of 3 decades, so with nothing to prove he's made such “gems” as Jack and Jill, Pixels and The Ridiculous 6. But thanks to directors/co-writers Benny and Josh Safdie it seems Sandler's desire to be taken seriously as an actor has reemerged. With Uncut Gems, Sandler gets another chance to flex his acting chops and, to be honest, this is his finest performance since his turn in 2002's Punch-Drunk Love.

The Safdies' previous film was 2017's Good Time, a balls-to-the-wall, near-nihilistic crime drama that featured an amazing performance from Robert Pattinson (yes, Twilight Robert Pattinson). Uncut Gems is more of the same and its protagonist is Howard Ratner (Sandler), a jeweler with a major gambling addiction. Howard runs a jewelry shop in New York City's Diamond District and, despite having wealthy clientele willing to spend on everything shiny, he's run up a huge gambling debt whom his brother-in-law loan shark Arno (Eric Bogosian) intends on collecting. With new client Kevin Garnett looking to borrow Howard's priceless uncut opal (mined from an Ethiopian Jewish community), Howard seizes the chance to score big by betting big on KG and his Boston Celtics.

Thanks to a terrific script (co-written by the Safdies and longtime collaborator Ronald Bronstein) and an unforgettable performance from Sandler, Uncut Gems is a great example of a man in crisis. Besides Howard's gambling debts, he's in a loveless and all-but-divorced marriage with Dinah (Idina Menzel); and he has a mistress, Julia (Julia Fox), who is also Howard's employee. Then there's Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), who recruits clients for Howard and is just as shady as him. Not to mention, there are numerous others who approach Howard to either collect on debts or to reacquire items Howard's borrowed in the past. With everything going on at once (and none of it good), it's safe to assume Howard is stressed out and way in over his head. It's a mesmerizing ride that audiences won't be able to take their eyes off of, even though there are times when you can't help but look away.

Besides an award-worthy turn from Sandler, Kevin Garnett is very good, too. He's merely playing a caricature of himself, but he had to sell his storyline for the rest of Gems to work. The Safdies also did well to work it into the future Hall of Famer's real life 2012 playoff run with the Boston Celtics. Of course, all of this works perfectly with Howard's gambling addiction.

Stanfield, for those that follow him, should know by now that he's (at worst) solid. At his best he's phenomenal, which he is here despite less screen time. He's forever hustling and all about making money, the one thing which he and Howard share a mutual need. But their business relationship is a contentious one and they bicker back and forth constantly. Stanfield is the perfect character actor but with leading man charm (which he somewhat displayed in 2018's Sorry to Bother You and 2019's Someone Great; and will again show off his skills in 2020's The Photograph).

In just 2 films the Safdies have perfected portraying people in crisis. They have a knack for taking a bad day and compressing it into a palatable film; and they are also able to make the most mundane annoyances seem life-altering. Their style isn't for everyone, though, but definitely when you watch a Safdie feature you can instantly relate to their characters' personal struggles.

With that, Uncut Gems is fantastic - a diamond in the rough (if you will). It is manic, at times chaotic, and will provide plenty of tension while keeping you on the edge of your seat. With great performances and a touch of humor it is one of the year's best films and should contend during awards season. If nothing else, check it out for Sandler because he's proven once again he can succeed in serious roles.

4.5 stars out of 5


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