For most of the 21st Century, Adam Sandler has been a bit of a joke. From puerile bro-comedies like Big Daddy to dumbed-down family dross à la Pixels, there was one unifying thread – it was all a bit shit. But in recent months, the Pied Piper of man-babies has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence. Murder Mystery was Netflix’s most-watched film of 2019, Daniel Day Lewis complimented his dramatic chops and Saturday Night Live invited him back for the first time in 24 years. Uncut Gems, his new movie with indie auteurs the Safdie Brothers, is yet more proof of the ‘Re-Sandler-ssance’.
Set in New York, the film follows Howard Ratner – a charismatic jeweller with a fledgling gambling addiction. Always on the lookout for the next big score, Howie’s dream of hitting it rich is counteracted by his terrible luck. After racking up debts to some of the city’s nastiest crooks, he stakes everything (family, business, love) on one final throw of the dice.
As a mid-career change of direction, Uncut Gems is a masterstroke. Sandler’s been here before – Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love was an early foray into serious drama – and Howard is yet another of the dopey-but-likeable everymen Sandler made his name with. But this seems different. Whereas Punch Drunk Love ambled around in a fog of surrealist dreamscapes, the Safdies’ crime thriller is almost unbearably tense. At 135 minutes, it should feel bloated, but at no point is the action any less than gripping. Uncut Gems is an anxiety-inducing heart-attack of a movie that grabs its audience by the throat and shakes until there’s no breath left.
Short of nit-picking, there really is no way to criticise this film. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji (Se7en, Midnight In Paris), it has a gritty, twitchy vibe that only adds to the paranoia. As a leading man, Sandler has never been better – flipping from revved-up temper tantrum to cuddly teddy bear in seconds flat. Such is the critical acclaim his performance has received that the actor has promised to “make a crappy movie on purpose” if he doesn’t win an Oscar. After Uncut Gems, you wonder if he’s capable of that anymore.
- Read more: Adam Sandler explains threat to “make a crappy movie” if he doesn’t win an Oscar for ‘Uncut Gems’
Of course, there are flashes of the Sandler of old – like the bizarre moment when he throws a punch at pop star The Weeknd. Rolling around amidst the cigarette butts on a grotty nightclub floor, the unlikely cast-mates scrap like children fighting over a new toy (in this case, Howard’s girlfriend Julia). It’s a scene we’ve seen many times in Sandler movies, but here, it just reminds us how far he’s come.
- Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
- Starring: Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield
- Release date: 10 January 2020