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TIFF 2019 Review: Adam Sandler enters the Oscar race in gonzo 'Uncut Gems'

Courtesy of A24


Those who say Adam Sandler can’t act shouldn’t look further than “Uncut Gems,” The Safdie Brothers ferocious, mind dizzying, and cocaine-fueled roller coaster trifecta. In the film, Sandler - in what is easily the comedians best performance since probably “Punch Drunk Love” or “The Merowitz Story” - plays a self-destructive jeweler quickly looking for his next hustle in the diamond district of New York City. 

To put into perspective, a film made by the Safdie Brothers is like an assault on the mind, body, and spirit. Think of that tingly feeling you get in your foot when it falls asleep, that’s what the “Uncut Gems” experience is. Somehow, the directing duo have managed to best their last shiny product (“Good Time”) with a film that’s a touch more in synch with today's climate, and one that almost never lets up until Daniel Lopatin’s unhinged scoring takes you to another planet. 

But mostly, “Uncut Gems” is held together by a manic performance from Sandler playing Howard Ratner, who's up to his eyeballs in debt, is trying to maintain his store, and is in the middle of a crisis. His marriage to Dinah (Idina Menzel) is practically over, and there are several loan sharks out sniffing around to collect the mountains of cash owed to their clients. Howard’s life is one giant scam after another, and he is constantly betting on the next big thing hoping something will payoff. 

His cramped and unruly store is consistently swarming with a wide variety of characters, many of them either African-American rappers or sports figures thanks to Demany (Lakeith Stanfield - outstanding) - an influencer paid to sway big spenders to walk through Howard’s store. As a result, NBA player Kevin Garnett (playing himself) shows up one day and quickly becomes obsessed with a black opal diamond Howard just had imported from Ethiopia on the black market. 

To Howard, the artifact is worth millions and acts as the solution to all of his problems, but Garnett becomes so enamored with the gem, he doesn’t want to part with it, throwing a wrench in Howard’s plans while his debtors are breathing down his neck with guns in hand. Hell, I bet if you took a walk down the street in “Uncut Gems,” there’s probably not a soul Howard doesn’t owe money too. The heat is on his back at nearly every corner, and cinematographer Darius Khonji is fluid with all his movements to keep the pressure on the jewler as his world is literally crumbling. 

However, it should be noted that as exhausting as this thriller can be, Sandler is still able to showcase those comedic chops and turn “Uncut Gems” into an unexpected dark comedy, but those searching for The Sandman’s next big commercial hit, should stick with the sloppy Netflix alternative instead. 

Plus, for anyone that knows, understands The Safdie’s don’t know how to make a movie where the sound isn’t blasting, and the visuals aren’t being lodged down your throat. But there’s something so exhilarating about all the madness unfolding in real time. The climax of the film revolves around the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA finals, and the filmmakers know exactly how to amp up the stakes just enough, and turn an already intense game into something astounding. 

“Uncut Gems” is the equivalent of a cinematic anxiety attack taking its toll on your senses. Pop a couple aspirins, bring a reliable pair of ear plugs, and watch as Sandler has just pushed himself into the crowded Oscar race. 

Grade: A- 

A24 is set to release Uncut Gems on December 25th and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

There's currently no trailer available for the picture. 

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