Uncut Gems – Sandler stuns in flawless flick

Uncut Gems marks the best performance of Adam Sandler's career but, for some reason, the people behind the Oscars didn't think he deserved to be nominated. Some comedians do drama better than most accomplished actors and that doesn't impress the Academy, find out why in this movie review.

Howard Ratner Smiling

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Adam Sandler may have been snubbed by the Oscars this year for his performance in Uncut Gems but it didn’t stop him from having the last laugh when he won best actor at the Independent Spirit awards. It’s a great speech, watch the video review to see some highlights.

Some comedians are notoriously good at delivering some great dramatic performances. The gold standard would have to be the late and eternally great Robin WIlliams in films like Dead Poets Society and Good will Hunting.

This is not some kind of phenomena, as people would be led to believe, and more related to a skill set. Not all comedians successfully transition to drama, for example you’re never gonna see Jerry Seinfeld in something like Awakenings or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

For the ones that do make it, it comes down to their experience working in front of a live audience and the rush that comes with that instant feedback loop. Authenticity is a big deal for comedians because while acting involves faking a lot of things, you can’t fake funny.

No laughing matter

Over the years it seems the Academy has taken issue with comedians who decide to take acting seriously. Steve Carell was snubbed for Little Miss Sunshine but made up for it with Foxcatcher. Jim Carrey was snubbed for both for the Truman Show and Man on the Moon. Bill Murray for Lost In Translation and Adam Sandler was previously snubbed for his excellent performance in Punch Drunk Love.

When it comes to Uncut Gems, a lot of the media attention has fallen on Adam Sandler but the movie as a whole, despite widespread critical acclaim, didn’t get a run in any categories at the Oscars.

Really, it’s bullshit because, writers and directors Josh and Benny Safdie have created and delivered a thrilling story with near perfect pacing . They’ve also given Sandler the platform for the performance of his career.

Who made it?

For many this will be the first introduction to the the films of the Safdie brothers and their star has well and truly risen with this movie. Uncut Gems went on to set a box office record for studio A24 grossing more than $48 million when it opened domestically in the States on a limited run last December. It’s also been one of the most streamed films since it transitioned over to Netflix at the end of January.

Fun fact: It has the seventh highest use of the word fuck in a film with 408 mentions. When asked how many fucks are given, this film averages about three per minute.

The story

The story centres around a few days in the life of Howard Ratner, a diamond dealing high stakes gambling addict who is chasing a gigantic payday that will help him clear his debts and restore some of his fractured relationships.

Howard’s poison is a mixture of jewellery, the aforementioned gambling and basketball. When NBA Star Kevin Garnett from the Philadelphia 76ers visits his store he’s persuaded to lend an extremely rare uncut black opal to him as a good luck charm

Then, in order to pay off the $100,000 he owes to his loan shark brother in law Arno, he places some high stakes parlay bets on Garnett’s game, which seems insane given he could merely auction off the opal and clear the debts that way.

The coolest part about the movie is the way the fiction of Howard’s story interacts with real life events. The movie is set in 2012 and the games Howard bets on actually happened, the results from the were real. That and the Celtics Kevin Garnett playing his 2012 self makes it even more credible.

The cast

In addition to Garnett, all the cast are superb, but they all just kind of orbit around Sandler, who eats up every scene. Standouts include Lakeith Stanfield as his associate Demany. Idina Menzel as Howard’s wife Dinah. Julia Fox as his mistress Julia and Eric Bogosian as the loan shark brother-in-law Arno. There’s also a cool cameo from The Weekend who plays himself when he was an up and coming musician playing clubs in New York, again this just ads to the authenticity of the time period.

The cinematography from Darius Khonji whose previous work includes films like Evita and Se7en has this gritty 80’s aesthetic. Theres lots of light and contrast in each scene that resembles some of those great 80’s movies like ET. He also uses a lot of zooms and tracking reminiscent of that 80’s style, which clashes with the timeline being set in 2012 New York, but is extremely effective.

As is the soundtrack from Daniel Lopatin who’s synth heavy score moves in perfect harmony with Khonji’s visuals. It shimmers and sparkles like the gems that are the object of Howards affection.

The verdict

Anyone, including the those members of The Academy who are put off by Sandler’s involvement in this film really are missing out. This is is a guy at the pinnacle of his acting career and some of the more highbrow cinephiles may finally be able to say that they have found a Sandler flick they actually like.

Uncut Gems is flawless.


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