“Uncut Gems” Expertly Keeps Audience on Edge

In Film, Adam Sandler Assumes Role of Howard Ratner, Reputable Jewel Dealer

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Lara Garay

"Uncut Gems" is Studio A24's latest film.

Andrew Mello, News Editor

Rating: 5/5 Falcons

It takes a variety of skills to craft a film as sublime as Uncut Gems. The latest gift from Studio A24, Uncut Gems delivers on what the studio has become known for: movie going-experiences you couldn’t find anywhere else. 

As recent indie darlings, the Safdie brothers’ direction guides the film in an almost invisible way, amplifying a potently anxious feeling that seems to bleed off the screen. The film almost seems to take place entirely from Howard’s (Adam Sandler) shoulder, keeping the audience far closer than they might be comfortable with, but still nowhere near close enough to predict what comes next. 

The plot of Uncut Gems isn’t so much a straight-ahead story as much as it is a gambler’s web – each scene including a new ploy by Howard using money that isn’t his as he does his damnest to crawl out of the grave he dug himself. Calling Uncut Gems a character study might be boiling it down unfairly, but more than anything it is the story of a gambler who cannot leave the table, ignorant to what he has and transfixed only by what could be. 

Running up and down New York’s Diamond District, Howard plays the city like a fiddle, never betting with his own money, preferring to hang his life in the balance instead. The wide variety of locales manages to keep the audience on their toes, keeping the element of surprise without resorting to shots in the dark. 

Every scene feels like a follow up to the last, keeping with the cause-and-effect style structure. One noteworthy break from this style comes in a scene between Howard and his wife (Idina Menzel) at home as they both tiptoe around the words “infidelity” and “divorce.” By seeing his fractured family dynamic up close, we discover what Howard has already sacrificed, and despite still having everything to lose, Howard almost doesn’t have a choice in his own actions, motivated by nothing more than the thrill of playing the odds.  

Exactly as its title would have you believe, everything here carries some level of filth and grime familiar to fans of GOOD TIME. The dirt doesn’t stem so much from grain on the camera, but more from the characters themselves. While still as funny as ever, the helplessness of Howard’s situation, and his addiction to gambling with his life, make Sandler’s performance into more than just a loudmouth. While another actor might paint him as a tragic gambler, Sandler has the rare capacity to mold him into a man you can’t help but root for, despite his actions painting him as an impulsive, loathsome gambler.

Like a time capsule, what the Safdie brothers have accomplished with Uncut Gems isn’t something we can appreciate fully today, with an intentionally amateur style only elevating the already taut material. The Safdie brothers’ refreshingly un-cinematic direction allows the characters and scenes to flow uninhibited, resulting in a structure where every scene builds off the last while remaining necessary for what follows. 

As only a screenplay, Uncut Gems is airtight, a distilled shot of pure, uncomplicated action. In tandem to GOOD TIME, which never allowed the audience to escape its surreal visuals and persisting danger, Uncut Gems spends its 135 minutes imposing this same shadow of urgency in every moment, leaving the viewer no choice but to wait and see what’s to come.

This piece also appears in our January 2020 print edition.