Once, twice, maybe thrice a decade, Adam Sandler emerges from his gold-encrusted money cave to put on a show. Not a loosely-veiled money laundering vacation scheme with a fat paycheck for him and his buddies, but a real, quality piece of film. Uncut Gems is one of those movies.
Closing out the 2010’s, the Sandman takes up the role of Howard, a sleazy, greasy, gambling-addicted jeweler perpetually seeking to multiply his load. After taking out several shady loans to invest in a rare raw opal gemstone, Howard plunges deeper to come out the victor as he backstabs, double-crosses, and sinks himself into ever-worsening debts to win back his sum score and cash in an even bigger return.
Directors Josh and Benny Safdie unleash chaos in its purest form as they skip the pot and throw your ass straight into the frying pan. In a pummeling cacophony of loud arguments and delirious bad decision-making on its characters’ parts, the Safdies never let up from minute one, and by the time the film takes its breathers to expand on Howard’s terrible domestic life, you’ve been so conditioned to expect the worst that each passing second keeps its choking grip on you as firmly as the last. It feels like one big, anarchic mess as the film takes a while to get started, but once the ball gets rolling, all the pieces smartly click into place, gratified by your trust into a pretty pitch-perfect ending.
Sandler himself is a big contributor to the jack-hammering momentum of Uncut Gems, rocking the coolest pairs of shades I’ve ever seen (I gotta get some of those) with the smarmiest performance of 2019. Beating to a magnificently synth-heavy shoo-in contender for the best score of the year courtesy of Daniel Lopatin, Howard plays a nauseating juggling act that could only be carried by an actor with the manic energy of Sandler. You can practically smell a few decades’ worth of rancid cologne reeking off of him, and on top of sustaining the craziness for the entire, longer-than-usual runtime, Sandler plays to every one of his thespian strengths in the best of ways.
Additionally, there seems to be a lot of interesting thematic material on the film’s mind. I couldn’t quite pin down what on my initial viewing, but with so many specific recurring and pronounced choices being made in the Safdie’s direction and screenplay (co-written by Ronald Bronstein), there’s definitely something there to be said. It may be as straightforward a moral about greed or an entirely different conglomeration of its characters and setting wandering through the film’s kaleidoscopic ethers, who knows, but it makes the hellish piece entirely worth revisiting for multiple viewings ahead.
Uncut Gems is an unwieldy film in all the best ways, a sharply turbulent mess that only lets up to crush you back down, twice as hard.