The 400-Word Review: Uncut Gems

A career high point for Adam Sandler concerns a problematic gambler and a supernatural stone.


This is the perfect role for Adam Sandler.

It is more fitting than his star-making turns in comedies such as “Billy Madison” and more well-tailored to him than his revelatory sad-sack performance in “Punch Drunk Love”. The boisterous, unlikable yet compelling huckster in “Uncut Gems” is so fine-tuned to Sandler’s persona — on-screen, off, public, private — that it feels as though it must have been written for him.

It wasn’t; in fact, Jonah Hill originally had the part. I’m sure he would’ve been fine. Without Sandler, though, it would’ve been a good film lost in the shuffle; with Sandler, it’s something more, a simultaneous deconstruction and elevation of a familiar face.

That dovetails nicely with the story. (Not literally nor thematically, it just sort of feels right.) Howard Ratner is a New York jeweler and a mid-life cliché: His marriage is dead, his home life is neglected at best and he’s nursing a terrible gambling habit. That has him in debt to a variety of toughs, primarily his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), to whom he owes a six-figure sum.

Fortunately, he has a line on a rare item, an uncut opal from an African mine. He believes it could fetch a million dollars at auction; when it arrives, he shows it off to basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself), who becomes convinced the rock can boost his on-court fortune.

So begins a series of unlikely bets and deals, all of which could solve at least some of Ratner’s problems but simultaneously create new ones with his enraged creditors. “Uncut Gems” is a staggeringly tense movie that will have crowds screaming at Ratner for making hare-brained wagers — then immediately watching a decade-old basketball game in breathless anticipation to see if the bet pays off.

Directors Josh and Benny Safdie helmed a more modest but similarly tense picture, “Good Time,” in 2017, performing a comparable feat of star rehabilitation with a pre-resurgent Robert Pattinson. This is a stronger film. There are flaws with its constituent parts (a dispassionate view will reveal that Ratner is sort of despicable, and a sequence in Africa doesn’t work), but the full package is admirable.

The headline, though, is Sandler. It’s not just that the role is great for him; he’s great for it, adding humor, desperation and charm in deft fashion. More roles like this and (most of) Sandler’s cinematic sins could be forgiven.

My Rating: 8/10

“Uncut Gems” will be released in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Dec. 25.

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