It took half a year, but I was finally able to watch A24’s “Uncut Gems,” a fantastic little film about gem dealer and chronic gambler Howard Ratner, as portrayed by Adam Sandler. And Sandler is great in this film.
Ratner is quite simply a scumbag. He cheats on his wife (Idina Menzel) for his younger female employee/girlfriend (Julia Fox), he uses other people’s money to make increasingly risky bets on mundane basketball games without their consent, and he has little respect for his employees and colleagues. Even when they’re threatening to throw him out of his own window because he placed their money in a bet they did not consent to, he can’t take them seriously. Ratner is portrayed as an addict, always chasing a high only a large, high stakes bet can get him, and nothing else matters to him outside of that. And in the end, he gets what’s coming to him.
There was a lot of buzz around this movie that Sandler finally made a real film (it seems he might have chosen this film over Netflix’s “The Wrong Missy,” as while hallmarks of his production company are evident in that film, Sandler himself is mysteriously absent), and there was a lot of outrage over him not receiving a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination, despite having a great performance. To this I say: Hey, it won 13 other great awards, and the Oscars/Golden Globes are not always a reflection of the best films of the year. The Oscars alone nominated “Joker” for 11 Academy Awards, of which it won two, when it probably deserved two nominations at best (Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix and Best Director for Todd Phillips) and zero award selections (while “Joker” was culturally impactful, there were many, many better films that came out last year). Leonardo DiCaprio was famously snubbed by the Academy for years until he finally nabbed his first Best Actor nod from 2015’s “The Revenant”, but that does not in any way degrade his pre-“Revenant” work.
“Uncut Gems” benefits from great direction and cinematography from directors Josh and Bennie Safdie and cinematographer Darius Khondji. Its pacing and editing are also fantastic. The Safdies knew how to use Sandler to his fullest, and he fit the role perfectly. Celtics/Timberwolves legend Kevin Garnett, who plays a central role in Ratner’s “uncut gem” scheme in the film, is also great. This movie has three writers, and you get a sense that they were in harmony and their multiple voices actually made the film much better, rather than sow chaos like so many other films with large writer rooms seem to have.
“Uncut Gems” is a relatively small tale told beautifully. Everything in this film has a place, and it is clearly one of the best films of 2019, but I would hesitate to call it a classic.
Our film critic, Alex Stewart, put it beautifully in his “Uncut Gems” review half a year ago:
“One of the best things about movie discourse on the internet is that people can and will be proven wrong. And in the case of this movie, I’m hoping I was wrong to scoff at Adam Sandler movies. The story is compelling and made more immersive with the cinematography. And despite having some of the makings of a typical Sandler character, Howard Ratner is compelling and has some depth to him. Hopefully, this will be the first of a new stage of quality work from the Happy Madison founder.”
Now, as “The Wrong Missy,” proves, I wouldn’t expect much from Happy Madison productions. But it looks like Sandler is willing to commit to an indie film every now and again. And I’m willing to keep an eye out for those projects.
“Uncut Gems” gets an 8.5/10