Adam Sandler gives his best (serious) performance since “Punch Drunk Love.”
I’ve been a fan of Adam Sandler’s comedies like “Big Daddy” and “Happy Gilmore,” and it was a pleasure meeting him in 2010; but I have lost faith in him, because of his recent bombs like “Jack & Jill,” “Blended,” or “Grown Ups 2.” On the other hand, he does take a few risks by grabbing more serious roles in “Punch Drunk Love,” “Reign Over Me,” “The Meyerowitz Stories,” and more recently “Uncut Gems.”
“Uncut Gems,” the latest film from the Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny), is a gritty crime dramedy that allows Sandler to be an actor and not a trained monkey. He delivers a remarkable performance as Howard Ratner, a New York jeweler and gambling addict, who finds himself in deep turmoil.
1.) He lends a valuable rock with opals to ex-NBA player Kevin Garnett, just before it goes on auction, but he doesn’t give it back to him the next day as planned. He even loses faith in his assistant Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), the one responsible for finding him clients.
2.) He has a relationship with his employee Julia (Julia Fox), while trying to mend things with his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) and family (Noa Fisher, Jonathan Aranbayev, and Jacob Igielski as their kids). And at one point, Julia seduces The Weeknd at a night club, resulting in a massive argument between her and Howard.
3.) And even worse, his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his goons (Keith Williams Richards and Tommy Kominik) demand their money back. Howard tries to explain how his latest bet will pay off, but you know impatient these guys get.
“Uncut Gems” rolls the dice and comes out a winner, complete with knock-out performances, unpredictable risks, and wickedly funny dark humor. It also represents the impatience and consequences of bets, deals, and loans with cantankerous conversations, electronic music (composed by Daniel Lopatin, A.K.A. Oneohtrix Point Never), and those radiant jewelry colors (much more meaningful than the hallucinations in Gasper Noe’s “Enter the Void”).
The casting is outstanding. Sandler delivers the robust side to his comedy career by playing a man with money trouble, who uses his words wisely and stupidly, depending on how they play out. Menzel is both funny and memorable as his estranged wife, and she should expand her horizons outside the Broadway and “Frozen” universes. Stanfield delivers the goods as the difficult assistant. Fox introduces herself tremendously as Howard’s girlfriend. Bogosian explodes with great intensity as his angry in-law. And I don’t know this former basketball player, but Kevin Garnett keeps his cool, even when his 2008 ring is out of place, because Howard had the pawn shop hold it.
The Safdie Brothers have outdone themselves by allowing the actors to expand their horizons without seeming typical or obvious, and allowing us to guess how the film pays off. This is considered to be a gamble; it may or may not win the game, and I acknowledge that. And much to my surprise, Martin Scorsese is an executive producer. Maybe that’s why the money and violence boldly kick in.
Don’t miss it.