‘Uncut Gems’ TIFF Review: Adam Sandler Surprises in Safdie Brothers Crime Thriller

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It’s always been said that Adam Sandler has it in him to be one of the best actors of his own kind but his choice to stick within the same Happy Madison circle has also hindered him from showing exactly that. As shown through his work in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, he also shows that he can carry more restraint to that familiar comedic persona he is known for and turn out a great performance too. Though to call a pairing of him together with the Safdie brothers unexpected would only be underestimating what it is that makes Uncut Gems every bit as wonderful as it is. This new crime thriller from the team behind Heaven Knows What and Good Time haven’t simply created what might be the darkest film you’d ever see someone like Adam Sandler starring in, but like their preceding films you can only take so much of that adrenaline-like energy flowing through the ride, and that’s how you know it only gets better.

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Adam Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a jeweller working within the diamond district of New York City. Although his clients often consist of noted athletes as provided by Demany (LaKeith Stanfield), his daily life is one without the sort of glamour, riddled with debts, a plan to divorce from his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), but he still remains optimistic through his own schemes. Following his acquisition of a freshly mined chunk of rock with shining gemstones on the inside, Howard thinks that he might have found a way to win a deadly game of success after NBA all-star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) becomes obsessed after having laid eye, but Howard’s desire for success only troubles his affairs with his wife and girlfriend (newcomer Julia Fox), whose affections he hopes to win over – and pay off the violent debt collectors coming after him. In a film like Uncut Gems, it’s easy enough to say that there’s so much going on all at the same time, but as the Safdie brothers navigate you through Howard’s own journey, even the most exhausting elements place you in the perfect frame of mind and make the ride even more thrilling.

Uncut Gems carries a particularly ethereal quality to it as aided from the beautiful cinematography from Darius Khondji, but even at a running time of around two hours the Safdie brothers pace everything briskly – yet also make you feel every passing moment of time. Much like their previous feature Good Time, what the Safdie brothers have brought to the screen with Uncut Gems only surrounds you in the characters’ environment to the point of being suffocating, and no matter how much may be going on, whether it’s too much or too little to take in at the given moment, it still flows smoothly. As much as the tension can rack up in this thriller from the pair of filmmakers, flourishes of comedy are still evident and there’s never a moment where they don’t land. All of it is made to work so perfectly thanks to how much fun it is to simply watch Adam Sandler take the screen in a role that feels so unlike the sort that his audiences would be used to, even following his dramatic turn in Punch-Drunk Love.

Despite a character as slimy as Howard Ratner not being the sort that one would ever picture an actor like Adam Sandler taking on, he still brings the childlike persona from his comedy work in the best possible way – for you still feel Howard’s plight because he’s someone who simply wanted to be loved in a system where he’s set to fail. It’s clear as day that this is some of the most fun that he’s had onscreen in a while, but it’s not only Sandler’s performance that shines out with the cast that the Safdie brothers have gathered here. In the supporting roles you have LaKeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian, and Idina Menzel who are always so reliable but the surprising turns come out from none Kevin Garnett and Julia Fox – both of whom have made their first film appearances in here, with the latter proving herself to be a talent to look out for. Even as he plays himself, Kevin Garnett is always a joy to watch because you still see him as a mirror to Howard Ratner, with so much fame yet also falling down a similar path towards the obsession with success.

This also might be the Safdie brothers’ most visually dazzling work to date, with how much of the New York essence do the brothers manage to capture through the photography of Darius Khondji. Yet even the most microscopic details still add to what it is that makes Uncut Gems ever bit as beautiful as it is, for it still feels like you’re looking at a freshly cut gem. Add all of that together with a fantastic score from Oneohtrix Point Never, who have scored the brothers’ previous feature Good Time, and it’s easy enough to say that there’s nothing more that one could ever ask for out of a film with Adam Sandler as a prickly jeweller.

Josh and Benny Safdie’s films might feel so overwhelming on the inside, but the ride that they provide never has a moment where it doesn’t feel as if it’s not worth it. Everything feels unbelievably confrontational in Uncut Gems, but there’s a brimming sense of optimism that allows for something more tangible to come along too. Compared to Good Time, there’s a whole lot more optimism to be found in here but the Safdie brothers also know how to pack a punch through the many surprising turns that they bring out. The sight of Adam Sandler being able to carry a crime thriller would be one of the less surprising elements to be found in Uncut Gems, but it’s that thought that only shows you everything wonderful that they are able to bring to the screen. It’s brash, ugly, and even exhausting, but it’s never any less dazzling – this is without doubt, one of the year’s best films and a film to define the decade.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via A24.


Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Screenplay by Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Produced by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard
Starring Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch
Release Date: December 13, 2019
Running Time: 134 minutes

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