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Review: You won’t believe how good Adam Sandler is in 'Uncut Gems'

Adam Sandler in 'Uncut Gems'

Adam Sandler in 'Uncut Gems' A24

It’s wild that people are still sleeping on Adam Sandler in 2019.

I mean, I get it. The dude has made some bad, bad movies. I’ve seen I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

But with Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People, and The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler has proven he’s a lot more talented than his goofy-schlub routine suggests. Still, in larger American culture, he doesn’t get his due. Uncut Gems might finally change that.

Set in 2012 New York City, the film chronicles the everyday fuckups of jeweler and gambling addict Howard Ratner (Sandler). He’s the kind of person ballsy enough to pawn an NBA superstar’s championship ring and place a bet with the money—which is exactly what he does when Kevin Garnett walks into his store. KG wants to borrow an uncut Ethiopian opal for good luck against the Sixers, so Howie takes the ring as collateral and starts making moves. This would be dumb in and of itself, but Ratner’s also outrunning his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), who’s sent a couple thugs to collect on a debt. And if that weren’t enough, he’s been cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with a young employee (Julia Fox).

What a guy. He could be president.

There’s an old creative writing maxim that says you need to put your character through hell, and the Safdie brothers do it with zeal. If you’ve seen Good Time, you know how much they revel in twisting the knife. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong. It’s even worse here—and even better screenwriting—because Ratner has countless opportunities to get himself out of trouble but doubles down on being a dumbass. You’d think getting stripped naked and locked in the trunk of a car would be a wakeup call, but Ratner can’t help pushing his luck.

The train wreck that follows makes Uncut Gems impossible to ignore, with Josh and Benny Safdie emerging as two of the more interesting filmmakers working today. It’s crazy how capably they hold an audience at just 35 and 33 years old respectively. Word is they’re redoing 48 Hrs. soon, which marks the only time I’ve ever been excited for a classic movie remake.

Writing for a Twin Cities paper, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a big shoutout to the Minnesota GOAT, KG. He’s playing a version of himself, but that in no way diminishes how good Garnett is here. It’s not necessarily a shock given his famous intensity and dedication. It’s just rare that a sports legend shows this degree of acting prowess. I don’t think it’ll be the last time we see The Big Ticket on the big screen.

That said, Adam Sandler makes the spotlight his own. There are still some minor Sandlerisms; however, his take on Ratner feels leagues different from past roles—even his other dramatic work. There’s the occasional goof and some somber turns as the character hits rock bottom, but Ratner’s brazenness—and at times even swagger—show Sandler operating on another level. When he and Garnett sit across from one another near the end of the picture, Ratner connects his wheeling and dealing to what KG does on the court. “This is how I win,” he says, eyes hidden behind a pair of shades. The great power forward gets it.

If it weren’t for Joaquin Phoenix’s execution in Joker, Sandler would have a legitimate shot at some Best Actor hardware. Nobody could imagine that in the Little Nicky era. It just goes to show, anything is possiblllllleeeeeeeeee.

Uncut Gems
Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett
Rated: R
Theater: Playing now, area theaters