This review will contain plot details and some spoilers.
Uncut Gems is one of the best films of the year with incredible acting and a non-stop, anxiety-filled story.
Uncut Gems is directed by Josh and Benny Safdie and stars Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, and Julia Fox. The story revolves around jeweler and perpetual gambler, Howard Ratner as he takes risk after risk and gamble after gamble to solve the problems in his life. The film has a lightning-fast pace and takes audiences on a journey that is uncomfortable, thrilling and disheartening.
The central theme of Uncut Gems is hope, or in this case, a hopeful character put into a world completely devoid of it. As the audience follows the story of Howard Ratner getting deeper with the loan sharks, his gambles get riskier and his actions get more dangerous. Ratner is a man always thinking his next big bet will be the one to cure all his ills and bring happiness back into his life. The truth of the matter is, his life was much more complicated and broken. Ratner’s family life is a disaster, on the verge of a divorce and a shaky relationship with his children. At work, Howard’s jewelry shop is not much better. Seemingly in deep debt, riddled with fake and counterfeit watches and at the mercy of high-level clientele, nothing seems to go right for Ratner, outside of Julia Fox’s character, Julia.
The casting of Uncut Gems is almost as impressive as its script. Adam Sandler shows up with arguably the best performance of his career. Sandler does not stop talking in the film it seems, a quality of his character, Ratner, who would just talk over and under any other dialogue in the film. This represents a sense of anxiety that underpins the film. Sandler’s anxiety to fix his life, the anxiety of those around him as things get hostile and the anxiety the audience feels over what will happen next all clash together to create a very tension-filled environment. To add to it, the film brings in basketball legend, Kevin Garnett. Garnett was larger than life and a show-stealer in every single scene he was in. As he towered over the other actors, the film does an impeccable job giving him a role that felt both believable and authentic, tying together with a real-life playoff series between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Right by his side was Lakeith Stanfield. Stanfield is quickly becoming one of the best actors in Hollywood, with an impressive resume building around him. Uncut Gems was one of his best performances to date. The breakout star of the film was Julia Fox. Her character, also named Julia was Howard’s employee and mistress, the only true bright spot in Howard’s broken life, Julia truly felt believable in her role and as the film slowly put her into the driver’s seat as the primary co-star, she truly embraced it.
Josh and Benny Safdie brought a level of uncomfortable realism to Uncut Gems. Setting in during a specific NBA playoff series, having Kevin Garnet, NBA superstar, has a prominent role, bringing in stars like The Weeknd to play versions of themselves brought a sense of real-world setting while also blending in elements of fantasy, and unexplainable moments. The one word to describe Uncut Gems is anxiety-inducing. The film gives the audience gut punch after gut punch but unlike Joker, a film that provides the gut punches back to back, Uncut Gems does something worse, it builds you up first.
The script of the film revolves around Howard’s gambling and has the audiences also join in, except to gamble his life and the plot of the film. You end up feeling like Howard has a chance to make it right and on many occasions, he almost does before the film hits you with the sledgehammer of reality. Howard was never going to win, and that sense of hopeless hope is perfectly portrayed by Adam Sandler.
Overall, Uncut Gems is perfectly directed, written and acted, featuring breakout performances by Kevin Garnett and Julia Fox, and Adam Sandler’s career-best, playing a hopeful character in a world devoid of it.