December 23, 2019

GENRE | Adam Sandler Wins It All – 'Uncut Gems' Hustles Hard

"This is me. This is how I win."
Adam Sandler Josh and Benny Safdie | Uncut Gems

Indie filmmaking brothers Josh and Benny Safdie return to their propulsive, nerve-wracking style of New York cinema for their long-in-development passion project, Uncut Gems. Set in 2012, the hard-driving crime drama follows Adam Sandler's Diamond District jeweller meets degenerate gambler as he tries to hustle his way out of his numerous business and personal problems.

Co-starring retired NBA star Kevin Garnett as a fictionalized version of his past self, Uncut Gems uses its ultra-specific New York area settings to express its highly manic filmmaking. Sandler's self-absorbed Howard Ratner is a fast-talking, seemingly unappealing liar yet he comes off as so compelling and charismatic thanks to the careful construction of his world. His exhilarating, naturalistic performance is a lights-out showcase of the dramatic depths of the film's unreal state of constant delirium.

The Safdies revolve the story around a very specific period during the NBA Eastern Conference finals and Garnett's key involvement to pay off the sports betting drama expertly. It's kind of ingenious adding this heightened sense of real-world authenticity to the constant sheer anxiety of Howard's penchant for gambling everything all the time.

Julia Fox Safdie Brothers | Uncut Gems

Written by the Safdies and their longtime collaborator Ronald Bronstein, everything about Uncut Gems feels surreally genuine despite how many obviously stupid the decisions Howard makes in succession on top of one another without hesitation are. It's hard to believe just how riveting the Safdies manage to make watching other people watch a seven-year-old basketball game.

This is firmly Sandler's film as he uses his trademark comedic wit to heighten the dramatic turn of his audacious character. Newcomer Julia Fox (very appealing), in her first role, is sensational as a foil to Sandler as Howard's younger mistress and employee. Hers is an interesting role beyond some of the initial expectations of the character's superficial appearance. All the characters have this kind of chaotic realism to them. Broadway star Idina Menzel offers a winning but unexpected turn against-type as Howard's cold but non-nonsense (soon to be ex-)wife.

Sandler and the Safdie brothers make for such a compelling collaboration. Uncut Gems unfolds like a cohesive crime drama embracing its abrasive humanity to move its sense of doom forward. The film is so purposely frenetic and anxiety-inducing yet it's impossible to look away from the longshot desperation of Howard's situations of his own doing.

Uncut Gems screens as part of the Vancouver International Film Centre's year-round programming at Vancity Theatre starting January 17th before being available to stream on Netflix in Canada on January 31st.

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