That is the best word to describe one of the most surreal films in recent memory, “Uncut Gems.”
The only film I can quite compare the pacing to is “Sorry to Bother You,” which also has LaKeith Stanfield in an important role. Stanfield isn’t the star in this movie, though, but instead it’s Adam Sandler.
Yes, the comedian who endeared himself to our hearts in the 1990s and early 2000s, but has been the object of derision in recent memory and for good reason. In recent films, Sandler didn’t seem to even try in his movies, using them more for vacations and to give his old SNL buddies (Rob Schneider, David Spade etc.) paychecks.
However, we know Sandler can act. He showed that in films like “Punch Drunk Love,” “Funny People,” and the underrated “Spanglish.” This movie is a breath of fresh air for Sandler defenders who know what can happen if he tries, and not only does he try in “Uncut Gems,” but he succeeds.
Sandler returns to his New York roots, playing a Jewish jeweler named Howard Ratner who owes money all over town, but can’t stop placing bets and getting loans for that big gamble that never seems to pay off. He is able to get an Ethiopian black opal (the uncut gem) that he thinks will be the answer to all his problems, or will it?
This film is directed by Josh and Benny Safdie – brothers who have been directing since 2008 but didn’t come on the radar until 2017’s “Good Time,” with Robert Pattinson. After this movie, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start to direct more star-studded movies.
“Uncut Gems” has quite the cast, too, with Sandler supported by Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Judd Hirsch, Mike Francesca and Kevin Garnett as himself.
All in all, it is a film that frustrates you, but you also can’t take your eyes off because the pace is so frenetic that your adrenaline continues to rise.
What I liked:
• Enough can’t be said about Sandler. I don’t know if he will be nominated for an Academy Award, but he truly transformed himself in this role. There is not much to like about Howard, he cheats on his wife, he is crude, he is cruel to his employees, especially Stanfield, and he is just annoying. But, he also makes you root for him because you don’t want the loan sharks to kill him and like Howard himself, you just know he will have a gamble that pays off.
• Everyone in the supporting cast does well, even Garnett having a good moment despite mostly just being a McGuffin for much of the film. Stanfield, Hirsch, Eric Bogosian as one of the mobsters after Howard, they are all good. The one that most impressed me was Menzel as Howard’s wife, Dinah. Menzel, who a lot of people know from her role as Elsa in the “Frozen” films, dives into a role of an angry wife who wants nothing to do with her scumbag husband and she plays it well.
• Also, not to be outdone, Julia Fox as the mistress Julia in her first film role was incredible. It says a lot to the direction and screenplay of how they got everything to work. Not only did they get Sandler and Menzel – who are veterans but Sandler coming from the comedy world and Menzel from the family world despite having a long stage career before getting into film – to play against type, but they also got newcomer Fox, NBA player Garnett and sports radio host Francesca to play like veteran actors, as well.
• The camerawork and score is outstanding, as well. Cinematography has gone through the roof in recent years with every director trying to make their own staple on the industry and stand out. With the interesting angles and creative usage of the lens, the Safdie Brothers do stand out. The score with its synth background and ultra-paced feeling just adds to the atmosphere of the film.
What I didn’t like:
• With the manic pace, sometimes it is hard to decipher what is going on or being said. Howard speaks in a very New York, almost satirical Jewish voice, and a few times things get lost in translation. I will have to watch it with subtitles next time to make sure I catch everything, plus I will have to slow some things down to make sure I catch everything.
Rating: R for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use.
My score: 90/100
Jordan Bishop is the assistant news editor at the Stillwater News Press and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.