Adam Sandler’s Crowning Jewel

Adam Sandler made a big bet on himself and it is paying off big time in Uncut Gems. This is unlike any role in any movie (or TV show) that you’ve ever seen Adam in. If you’re expecting to see some goofy gambler romping his way through debt and despair with blinged out NBA All-Stars, prepare to be disappointed. This is not The Waterboy with a gambling addiction.

Forever In Your Debt

This movie takes a hard look at the dark life of a degenerate gambler. Maybe the best since Matt Damon in Rounders.  Most films take an easy route, overplaying a few positive aspects of a character, so the audience can bond with an unlikeable icon. Not here.

Adam plays Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler with a sketchy clientele sprinkled with a few A-Listers. One of them is Boston Celtic legend Kevin Garnett, playing a heightened and even quirkier (if that’s possible) version of himself.

At 48-years-old, Howard has lived his life hustling. The world of jewels is awash in money and gems of questionable origin, which means he can somewhat easily float money between family, business, and bookies. But now it’s all catching up with him. Howard lives life on a chaotic edge, and the directors, Josh and Benny Safdie, don’t let us just observe the chaos. They immerse us in the chaos. Between moving cameras, close-up shots, and dialogue with characters often talking over each other, we are as unsure of our footing as Howard.

Adding to the chaos is unrelenting tension. Every aspect of Ratner’s existence is on the verge of collapse. There are bookies or enforcers on the phone, around the corner, or at his door. In business, he has the titular uncut gem, a colored opal smuggled in from an African diamond mine which Howie hopes will bring in a million dollar windfall. In Long Island there’s a wife and three kids and in Manhattan he has a mistress. The more he works schemes to keep his worlds from colliding, the more they collide.

But the one person he can’t avoid is himself and his worst instincts. Every chance to get even is parlayed into an all-or-nothing bet to really strike it big. At one point I was rooting against him. And let’s face it, when a financial strategy involves a blood diamond,  you’re not new to poor decisions.

You Bet Your Life

Everything about his movie works on every level. Howard doesn’t care what anyone thinks, and the Safdie Brothers don’t make any attempt to make us care. That unleashes them to give us a gritty and in-your-face film. We never get to relax. And just when you think you can exhale, comes the most shocking moment of the movie.

Redemption is never the goal. Reality is.

Sandler moves through this role effortlessly on edge. As much as you hate his character you have to love his performance. This can be a career changing role. It’s been a long time since he carried a hit comedy (and don’t @ me about Grown Ups, that was ensemble), and his Netflix deal hasn’t been a creative goldmine. Murder Mystery was only mildly entertaining thanks to Jennifer Aniston.

But this gives him serious drama cred. Uncut Gems could do for him what Dreamgirls did for Eddie Murphy. Ed got an Oscar nomination, and now (albeit 13 years later) is on the verge of a massive critical and commercial comeback.

Gems should make Adam a lock for an Oscar nomination, despite a snub at the Golden Globes.

As for Garnett, he’s really solid in his role. Not in an awards sense, but in a way that makes him believable. The best moment of the movie comes between him and Howard at the jeweler’s shop. With chaos raging just outside the door, they share a quiet moment in his office. It’s like the calm in the eye of a hurricane.

Kevin and Howard have a debate over their life choices. Betting. Blood diamonds. Basketball. And there is never an acknowledgment that any are better than the other, or that people besides themselves are trapped in the middle. The surreal moment is magnified by their stunning lack of values.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

The Chaos Cocktail. It’s brandy based, so you’ll need more than one, but is should calm the gitters this chaos-driven movie inspires.

Cheers!

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