Adam Sandler has certainly had a stigma attached to his name in the business for more than a decade now. Despite a lucrative multi-picture deal with Netflix, the comedic efforts of Sandler have almost been forgotten leaving him, a man who could do no wrong early in his career, floundering in his attempts at regaining that appeal to the masses. Some people say you’re only as good as your last film, and if that is the case Sandler has returned to greatness with his performance as a gambling addicted New York jeweler in “Uncut Gems.”
This film commands your attention through its raw depiction of Sandler’s character Howard Ratner as he relentlessly pursues the next big score. The Safdie brothers create an intimate atmosphere to this story that connects to the viewer not through likable characters, but through endless anxiety and uneasiness. Sandler’s Ratner is a common hustler. He is high-strung, arrogant, selfish and most important, realistic. The human quality of the character is what makes it so engaging to see where this narrative will take him. As the viewer you can continually sense that things are getting worse for him. Ratner balances many moving pieces in his blind hunger for winning and waiting to see which of these elements of his life will fall, causing the rest to crumble, is compelling.
The story-line sheds the studio polish and the theatrics. With the Safdie brothers in creative control it is hard to predict whether it will be a happy outcome or a grim one. As Ratner spirals down the rabbit hole of bad decisions, only to double-down on his choices. It’s absolutely unnerving to watch each conversation and interaction between the characters because each one means something. It’s hard to tell if Sandler is ignorant, or fearless to the repercussions of his actions. He carries this notion that if he can achieve the next big-score everything will be alright. And it’s intriguing to see play out because it has that realism to it. People are often selfish, and selfishness can lead to errors in judgement, and that is what makes this film so riveting to see unfold.
The movie doesn’t glamorize sports gambling. It doesn’t try to make you like the characters. It is very matter-of-fact. The world of this story seems continually moving and this script feels like it simply steps on the conveyor belt to give viewers a snapshot of the underground hustle that goes on in major cities around the world. You may not like the characters, but you are certainly able to invest in them because of the natural appeal from their personalities. The fly-on-the-wall approach to the film style puts you into the scenes with these characters and with Sandler in peak acting form as Howard Ratner, it easily locks into the core of the viewers curiosity. When things go wrong life, they can either get worse or somehow end up being an inspiration for change and watching to see where the Safdie’s would take this plot-line had me completely enthralled.
The direction from the Safdie’s is crisp. They don’t try to incorporate too many techniques and through the camerawork there is endless tension, dramatic expression, anxiety, fear, and so much more that is able to be captured through the performances. The scoring is stylish, it gives the film atmosphere when paired with vibrant cinematography from Darius Khonji. The visual appeal complements the story perfectly, it gives it an edginess which complements the cast performances nicely to result is a film that in a subtle fashion, is brimming with emotional intensity. It will command your attention, take you on a tension filled ride, and seeing Sandler thrive in a much grimier role brought a smile to my face.