Uncut Gems - A-
Rated R, 134 minutes
The gritty, intense low-budget new crime thriller "Uncut Gems" shines in large part because of a winning, dark turn from comic superstar Adam Sandler, playing against type in a thoroughly unsympathetic role in the low-budget thriller from the acclaimed Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny), who directed the equally dark "Good Time."
A charismatic jeweler named Howard Ratner (Sandler) makes a high-stakes sports bet involving Kevin Garnett (playing himself) that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.
"Uncut Gems" is a stellar thriller that comes together nicely with Sandler in the lead, but also with the skilled direction of the Safdie's and their script, co-written with their "Good Time" writer Ronald Bronstein. The mix of grimy characters and a sweaty, pulsating tone may leave you out of breath by the time it reaches its mildly shocking conclusion, which seems a little out of place with the rest of the film.
That's one of the few flaws in "Gems," which is occasionally uneven and goes on a tad too long, but is otherwise one of the most memorable thrillers of the year and a step up from their previous 2017 crime hit, "Good Time," starring "Twilight's" Robert Pattinson. Much like that film, the Safdie's take a well-known commercial actor and make him as unlikable as possible.
Sandler is perfectly cast as the native New Yorker and small time jewelry dealer in way over his head that will ultimately lead to bad things. "Gems" shows off Sandler's acting chops - yes he has them - that isn't seen often or near enough. In films over the years such as "Punch Drunk Love" and "Reign Over Me" we have seen some great glimpses of that, but this provides Sandler with a career-best role that's certain to garner some accolades in a year where the Best Actor Oscar race is pretty tight.
It's OK if you see Sandler in a different light, after all, that is the point with "Uncut Gems." This is one of Sandler's most unlovable, unlikable characters he's done, and miles from his lovable doofuses he normally plays. He's well supported by Eric Bogosian, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Judd Hirsch, with NBA star Kevin Garnett playing himself (the central plot point has a bet on a basketball game) as well as a cameo from pop star The Wknd.
After a furious finale, the Safdie's didn't really seem to know how to end "Uncut Gems," so they end it in a surprising way that you won't see coming. The shock factor seems a little out of place with the rest of the film, but keeps with its gritty tone. Sandler should rightfully get some awards for this stellar role, and here's hoping he does more like them. Dark and unlovely, "Uncut Gems" is a real gem.