The Safdie brothers, Joshua and Benjamin, are New York-based filmmakers who've had quite a career in the past decade. Their first film, 2007's The Pleasure of Getting Robbed, screened at the Cannes Film Festival but received mostly negative reviews. For their second outing, 2009's Daddy Longlegs, the film received better reviews and won the John Cassavetes Award in 2011. Following this, they were asked by producer Adam Shopkorn to help work on the documentary Lenny Cooke released in 2013. Around 2009, the brothers came up with a concept about a jewel dealer and approached Adam Sandler to star. Unfortunately, Sandler turned them down, so they went off to make 2014's Heaven Knows What and 2017's Good Time. Thanks to the attention they got for the past two films, Sandler agreed to star, and the rest was history. After ten years of development, the Safdie's Uncut Gems was released in 2019.
In 2010, a group of Ethiopian Jewish miners uncovers a rare black opal, which gets purchased two years later. The buyer, jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), plans on selling the opal at an auction to settle some debts. In addition to owing money from his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), he's divorcing his ex-wife Dinah (Idina Menzel). The day Howard receives the opal, NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (himself) visits his jewelry store, taking an interest in it. Howard reluctantly gives Garnett the opal in exchange for his championship ring, which he pawns off to bet on Garnett. While Howard wins the best, he's accosted and assaulted by Arno and his goons over the money he owes. Howard has to get the opal back from Garnett while dealing with his ex-wife and girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox). Will he able to pay off the loan sharks, or will his gambling addiction ruin him?
Just to get this out of the way, I have never been a fan of Adam Sandler and his comedies. With a few exceptions, I've found him to be loud, annoying, and abrasive in every single one of his films. However, he has shown that he has the potential to deliver good performances, including Punch Drunk Love and Funny People. With Uncut Gems, he delivers easily his best performance in years, convincingly making him a likable and charismatic sleazeball. By all accounts, this character's a loser, and the film acknowledges this, but Sandler's so good, you root for him. Also, the rest of the cast, including Menzel, Fox, Bogosian, and surprisingly even Garnett all deliver fantastic performances. There are also appearances by Lakeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch, Pom Klementieff, and even The Weekend, all having their moments. Uncut Gems has one of the best casts of the last few years.
Going into this, I was unfamiliar with the Safdie brothers' work, but after seeing this, I'm interested in seeing more. Their directing style is very fast-paced and highly energized, but it never feels like it's going by too fast. The editing helps keep the pace going, even in the slower scenes, and the cinematography adds to the kinetic energy. Admittedly, this style of filmmaking might make it hard for some people to watch, which is perfectly understandable. Despite this, the story and performances keep the film engaging, even if it can be hard to watch. Writing-wise, the dialogue naturally bounces off the actors and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. This is a well-acted and well-made story of greed and addiction, as well as the consequences that come from it. Overall, Uncut Gems is a great film with a great performance from Adam Sandler.
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