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Adam Sandler Deserves An Oscar For The Riveting “Uncut Gems”

We’ve known for years that Adam Sandler was a quality actor. Performances in films like Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, alongside Men, Women, & Children and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), have showcased his dramatic abilities. Now, we have his finest performance yet in Uncut Gems, a role perfectly tailored to his sometimes abrasive energy. Nothing Sandler has done will prepare you for this. The movie is kinetic and riveting, boosted by the Sandman delivering work that deserves every single bit of acclaim this awards season. Opening this week, the flick is a must see, with Sandler turning in acting that should be rewarded in a just world with an Oscar nomination.

The film is a drama (or somewhat of a dramedy) with crime thriller elements, centered on one New York City jeweler in the Diamond District, and in particular how he just can’t leave well enough alone. Howard Ratner (Sandler) has a ton of charisma, but he also is a degenerate gambler, a womanizer, and always compulsively searching for the next big score. Having imported a valuable gem from Africa, Howard sees a chance to really hit it rich, getting colleague Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) to bring in NBA star Kevin Garnett (himself) to his store. A convoluted deal is made, which involves temporarily trading the gem for Garnett’s NBA championship ring, which Howard immediately pawns in order to double down. As these decisions bite him in the ass, he navigates the wife he’s separating from in Dinah (Idina Menzel), his employee/girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox), as well as gangsters, including an actual relative in Arno (Eric Bogosian). This high-wire act is all in service of a huge win, but if Howard loses, it’ll be the loss of a lifetime. Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie direct, as well as co-write with Ronald Bronstein here. Darius Khondji handles the cinematography, while the score is by Daniel Lopatin. Supporting players include Mike Francesa, Judd Hirsch, Pom Klementieff, The Weeknd, and more.

Adam Sandler is absolutely brilliant here. The singular pursuit of a score that Howard engages in is infuriating to witness, but Sandler never allows you to pull back from the character. Every time he makes a poor decision, you want to yell at him. Somehow, it never becomes a negative though, only bonding you closer and closer to him. Even if this is a terrible person, you quickly grow to care for him. Sandler digs deep to make this a hunting turn. Disappearing into Howard Ratner, this is unlike you’ve ever seen him before. This is much more than just a comedic actor doing some welcome drama. It’s a talented individual challenging himself to go somewhere brand new, with staggering results.

The Safdie Brothers somehow make this equally hypnotic and almost intentionally off-putting. The anxiety they induce, along with Sandler, is incredible. As soon as the movie gets started, it never slows down for a moment. For over two hours, the Safdies relentlessly subject you to intensity and a character that’s written to be wholly unlikable. As mentioned above, it’s a credit to Sandler for imbuing Howard with a soul, as well as to the filmmakers for going all in on this type of a story. It was a bold gambit, but one that pays off in spades. For all the ways this could have gone wrong, it instead goes oh so right.

Uncut Gems is one of the harder Academy Award contenders to figure out. Quality wise, it deserves a full court press by A24 in Best Picture, Best Director (for the Safdie Brothers), Best Actor (for Sandler), Best Supporting Actress (for Fox), Best Original Screenplay (for Bronstein and the Safdies), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score. Frankly, it’s likely Sandler in Actor or bust, though a nomination somewhere else would really help him out. If that happens, look for it to be in Editing or one of the Sound categories, though if it wound up being Original Screenplay, that would be a real strong get.

This weekend, Sandler fans will see him in a whole new light when Uncut Gems hits screens. The Safdie Brothers and Sandler are mad geniuses here, concocting film that really gets under your skin. These filmmakers love to make uncomfortable movies, but this is on a whole other level. Brace yourself for something grimy, but also brace yourself for something rather incredible. Give it a shot and you’ll almost certainly be blown away…

Be sure to check out Uncut Gems, in theaters starting on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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