Every once in a while, a film comes out that completely changes your perspective on the talents of an actor. Adam Sandler has emerged out of the depths of sophomoric comedies that have long lost their 90s luster to deliver his best performance to date in Uncut Gems, a gritty thriller about Howard Ratner, a jeweler in New York’s Diamond District who is in deep debt due to sports betting.
Despite being the focal point of the film, Ratner is no hero, he’s not even an anti-hero, he is just downright unlikeable. Throughout the film, he has multiple opportunities to pay off his debts either in full, or take off a large chunk, and instead he decides to continue to gamble the money, despite being physically confronted by his bookie’s muscle men. Ratner cheats on his wife with one of his employees (Julia Fox in her film debut) to the point that he actually pays for her Manhattan apartment.
But the point is for the audience to dislike Ratner and his antics throughout the movie keep you constantly uncomfortable. His creditor, who happens to be his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), gets fed up with Ratner constantly avoiding him that he follows Ratner to his daughter’s school and informs him that he placed a stop on a bet he made with Arno’s money (a bet that hit and let Ratner believe that he made more than enough to cover the debt) before stripping him naked and dumping him in his car’s trunk, forcing his embarrassed wife to retrieve him.
While Sandler’s performance is strong, this film just simply isn’t for everyone. The pacing isn’t spectacular as it ultimately feels like nothing really happens in the film, but you’re set on a roller coaster of ups and downs for Ratner throughout the film that ultimately pays off with a strong third act. The camerawork is all over the place, continuing the theme of uneasiness. Uncut Gems is not a film you will want to see more than once, and its lack of replay value tends to hurt with the audience, but that isn’t always a bad thing.
At the end of the day, Uncut Gems is a PSA about the pitfalls of gambling addiction with underlining themes of misplaced hope and the problem with counting your chickens before they hatch led by an unlikely Sandler in the lead role.