Winning — at anything — can feel really good. Especially after a series of miscalculated failures. The rush someone can derive from it is immense and extremely pleasing. That attitude, however, can ultimately prove dangerous when winning involves big risks, which can lead to a self-destructive path fraught with peril. In their latest film, Uncut Gems, the Safdie brothers tap into that moral lesson with a character study that exemplifies the craft of film-making.
Uncut Gems follows the shifty Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a dealer of precious stones, as he optimistically looks for a big win in life, all the while trying to avoid the various threats that surround his life. The comedic thriller is a journey into the mind of a self-destructive gambler, who only ever sees the possible big win waiting at the end of the tunnel, and not the consequences for Ratner’s piss poor decision making.
The film is primarily a character study, with the supporting cast orbiting around Sandler’s Ratner character, who remains the constant focus. There are only one or two moments in the film where Ratner is not present, and even then, they are very short. Uncut Gems is about viewing the world through the eyes of Howard Ratner, with all the deluded optimism and possible gambling addiction that perspective entails.
Films of this nature – self-destructive individuals on a downward spiral — are not a new development. Uncut Gems stands out amongst the pack because of how it gets the audience inside Howard Ratner’s head. The film is built around an incredible performance from Sandler, who fits into the character of Howard Ratner so well, it is like a second skin. Sandler perfectly exudes Howard’s scripted optimism, making the self-absorbed and deluded character likable up until the credits roll. The actor also brings an energy to the role that, coupled with a fast-moving narrative and the right music, makes for a thrilling viewing experience.
Sound is of grave importance to the film. From Uncut Gems’ opening and till the very end, the film is set to the tune of music or some form of sound effect — save for select, quite intimate moments. As a result, Uncut Gems is a very loud film – especially the first fifteen minutes or so — which suits Howard Ratner’s boisterous personality. The use of music to be specific, creates an atmosphere of looming dread and/or hope that places the audience in the same mood as Ratner. To summarize, whenever Sandler’s character feels like a winner, the audience gets the same adrenaline rush he does – with the opposite also being true.
The script and Sandler are very funny. The humour in this film is well-executed and serves as a breather in this rather intense film. So, despite the hard-hitting character drama the ensues, audiences can look forward to a little levity – which adds a flavor to the film’s recipe that makes Uncut Gems feel unique among numerous other crime thrillers.
Before I close out this review, I do want to praise the supporting cast. While Sandler’s character is the central focus of the film, the production team has put to together a wonderful cast of secondary players. In particular — Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian, and Lakieth Stanfield give excellent performances – adding some nuance to fairly one note characters.
Uncut Gems is a terrific crime comedy with a career best performance from Adam Sandler. A compelling and layered cautionary tale, it is an exhilarating time at the movie theater. If you have not seen it at the film festival, I highly recommend watching the film during its wide release in December.
Uncut Gems is set to shine in theatres on December 13, 2019