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Uncut Gems – Movie Review

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Uncut Gems – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

Over the past few years, Adam Sandler’s career has hit upon a seemingly winning formula. He will make his usual low-brow comedies with friends that will go on Netflix. He also provides the voice of Dracula in the charming and inventive Hotel Transylvania movies. In between those gigs, Sandler is able to find time to appear in a smaller film that shows off his more dramatic chops. Teaming with directors Benny and Josh Safdie for Uncut Gems, Sandler plays a flawed individual who we strangely root for and that ups the already high tension of the story. It does take a little while for the film to get going, but once it does, the result is surprisingly thrilling.

Throughout Uncut Gems, we encounter Sandler’s stressed-out jeweler Howard as he deals with the many problems that arise in his business. Some of these issues are his own fault, while others come from the way he’s treated by those around him. At some point, we even get as frustrated as Howard does, whether it’s something as absurd as a door not opening or the impatient wait for an important package. One plot point involving a precious rock is especially nerve wracking to watch, as it’s something that could be so easily resolved and one starts to feel incredibly bad for him.

In other portions of Uncut Gems, Howard’s flaws are highlighted, especially the relationship he has with the rest of his family. In a memorable turn, Idina Menzel plays his frustrated wife and one can understand her annoyance at his actions. The film doesn’t shy away from showing his philandering and cheating and the occasionally creepy behaviour he partakes in. Sandler has made a career out of playing not particularly good people we’re still meant to root for, so it’s always refreshing to see films like Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems take a sledgehammer to the roles he often writes for himself. Those are films where Sandler plays clearly flawed people and doesn’t romanticize their actions.

The stakes and tensions are especially elevated in the third act. The Safdie Brothers are able to make an auction scenes one of the most suspenseful scenes of the year. They can take the raising of small paddles and turn that action into a thrilling sequence. The climax, in which we cut to a bunch of different characters as they watch a basketball game unfold, is exciting in the most unexpected way. Uncut Gems succeeds at morphing into being a sports film and an incredibly un-formulaic one. The movie begins strangely and confusingly with characters talking over one another. Once we get to the ending, the Safdies have our undivided attention.

Benny and Josh Safdie play the viewer just right by getting them to invest in the predicaments their lead character gets into. They manage this, despite Howard not being the most honest and likeable person. However, there are several scenes where you just hope the outcome goes in a completely different direction and there is genuine concern for what happens next. That’s not easy to accomplish, but the Safdies pull it off. It’s also always a pleasure to see Adam Sandler take a break from his usual comedic hijinks and try something different. Uncut Gems starts off a little unsure of where it will lead, but once the pieces start falling into place, it doesn’t let go.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison