Review: Uncut Gems (TIFF 2019)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a slippery, unscrupulous jeweler with an out-of-control gambling addiction, who pins his hopes in an Ethiopian opal that he hopes will get him out of the hole is dug himself into – if he can stay out of his own way.

REVIEW: Of all the actors emerging out of TIFF this year with Oscar buzz, perhaps the most surprising is Adam Sandler. No one could have predicted that sandwiched between his Netflix comedies, he’d opt to do a frenetic indie crime thriller that’s so far outside of what we’d expect from him. Previous dramatic vehicles, including PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, FUNNY PEOPLE and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES were less of a stretch than what he does here, but he carries the film so well you wonder why no one’s thought to cast him in something like this sooner.

uncut gems Adam sandler

In a lot of ways, UNCUT GEMS feels like the kind of role guys like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro would have played twenty years ago, with the connection to that kind of filmmaking furthered by the fact that Martin Scorsese is on-board as a producer. It’s a wild ride that grabs you right from the start and doesn’t let go until the end credits, jacked up by so much frantic energy you’d swear you’re watching the cinematic version of cocaine.

It’s a tough part for anyone to pull off, but Sandler nails it by going all-in on making his Howard Ratner utterly repulsive in some ways, but oddly charismatic in others. We can’t help but root for him even as he flushes himself further and further down the drain, by dodging loan sharks and doubling down on self-destructive bets any time he gets the least bit ahead. It’s the most effective film made about gambling since probably the original 1974 version of THE GAMBLER, and Sandler’s jittery energy is so expertly conveyed you honestly could never imagine anyone else playing the role.

It’s also a great New York movie, capturing the chaotic, overwhelming energy of the city in a way similar to the Safdie Bros’s previous film, GOOD TIME. Propulsion is the film’s key, being driven along by the frantic pace (which makes this feel remarkably short for a 130-minute movie) and an awesome score by Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never.

The Safdies make an interesting choice by setting this in 2012, building the film around a series of basketball games played by NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, who plays himself in a surprisingly juicy supporting role, with him being obsessed with the Opal Ratner brings in from Africa. Lakeith Stanfield plays Howard’s connection with the NBA, while Judd Hirsch and Eric Bogosian add New York flavor as guys in Sandler’s orbit, not all of them with his best interests at heart. Idina Menzel has a small part as Sandler’s wife, while newcomer Julia Fox plays his sexy mistress – who has a big scene with The Weeknd, also playing himself (complete with his iconic circa 2012 hairstyle) in a surprisingly self-lacerating way.

Like GOOD TIME, UNCUT GEMS feels like the work of totally uncompromising artists, with crazy shifts in tone, ranging from near slapstick comedy to brutal explosions of violence, that add to the chaos. It shouldn’t work – but it does and brilliantly. This is another kickass piece of work from A24, who further their reputation as the coolest studio in the biz, and utterly revitalizes Sandler’s career – who I hope pursues more roles like this.

Uncut Gems



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.