“Uncut Gems” is one of the last movies I saw in 2019 and may just be one of the best. Josh and Benny Safdie’s follow-up to their 2017 breakout film “Good Time” is equally psychedelic and intense.
The movie follows Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, who is a jeweler with a crippling gambling addiction, as he tries to climb out of a massive debt he owes to some dangerous people. “Uncut Gems” received zero Oscar nominations, much to the surprise of many moviegoers, as this is easily Sandler’s best performance since “Punch Drunk Love.”
Sandler pulls off an impressive feat in his portrayal of Howard Ratner. In concert with the brilliant writing of the Safdie Brothers, the audience is forced to sympathize with and root for a truly horrible man.
It is truly rare as a viewer to feel sorry for a character whose problems are entirely created by himself. Never before have I felt so conflicted about a character in a movie, and that might be one of the best aspects of this film.
The Sadfie’s use of actors and non-actors in this film pays off perfectly. Sandler may not just be the best actor to portray Howard Ratner, but the only actor who could have pulled off this role.
Opposite Sandler for many scenes is former NBA superstar Kevin Garnett. If you didn’t know who Garnett was prior to this movie, you may assume he was a regular actor with a Screen Actors Guild card, and not a 15 time NBA all-star with a championship ring. Garnett’s performance is exceptional and entirely believable as he becomes more and more obsessed with a valuable object throughout the film.
Even minor characters in this movie are played by both well-established actors and actors that have little-to-no experience. Lakeith Stanfield shows off his range as he continues his meteoric rise to stardom following up his most notable roles in “Sorry to Bother You” and “Get Out.”
Sandler’s love interest in the film is played by Julia Fox. If that name doesn’t sound familiar to you, it’s because she made her feature film debut in “Uncut Gems.” Fox’s performance is impressive aside from this fact, while her character perfectly complements while being completely at odds with Sandler’s.
My largest problem with “Uncut Gems” lies within its dialogue and sound mixing. In multiple scenes, characters are yelling over each other during already chaotic moments.
Two scenes in particular suffer from this: one in a nightclub and one in a moving vehicle. These sequences are far too noisy and realistic to a fault. This was likely a conscious decision by the Safdie Brothers to generate frustration and anxiety in the viewer. In that aspect, they succeeded, but not in a positive way to me.
Perhaps the best and most underrated aspect of this movie is the soundtrack. Daniel Lopatin, who records under the alias Oneohtrix Point Never, provides the musical backbone that is equal parts cerebral and anxiety inducing. This is Lopatin’s second time working with the Sadie Brothers, the first being a similarly intense and driving electronic soundtrack for the 2017 film “Good Time.” These soundtracks both create additional chaos to some of the most chaotic scenes in these movies but can also operate as standalone albums.
Even though the academy gave this movie zero nominations, and even though most people remember Adam Sandler as the goofball in critically unacclaimed movies such as “Big Daddy” and “Jack and Jill,” don’t let this gem of a movie slip under your radar in 2020.