What is maybe the best aspect of the exceptional Uncut Gems is the fact that yes, this is very much Adam Sandler doing something outside of his standard routine, but this isn't Sandler playing serious simply for the sake of proving he can in fact act when the material calls for it. No, this isn't sad or depressed Sandler simply for the sake of being taken seriously, but instead the Safdie Brothers (Good Time) have somehow lured the Sandman into giving both a layered, physical performance while also remaining one that plays off the inherent charm and charisma Sandler naturally possesses. Moreover, he's used perfectly here. So perfect in fact, it's hard to imagine anyone else in this role besides Sandler.

In Gems, Sandler is a jeweler in the diamond district in Manhattan. He’s ingrained in the Jewish community there and he's also a gambling addict. He has a wife (Idina Menzel) and several children, but he also has a girlfriend (Julia Fox) who works with him in his shop during the day and hustles for The Weeknd at night. Sandler's Howard Ratner pawns jewelry from his store to pay off bookies and accumulated debt some of the time, but most of the time he’s using that money to place bigger bets in something of a small scale Ponzi scheme. Context clues aside, the focus of plot comes into view when a giant opal that has been mined from the caves of Ethiopia comes into Ratner's possession. Ratner has plans to auction the rock off as he believes it to be worth untold amounts of money, but he first brings it to the attention of Kevin Garnett (via Lakeith Stanfield's character who will vouch for Howard's product to potential high dollar clientele such as Garnett). The NBA star can't seem to pass up the opportunity to own the stone as he believes it to bring him some type of luck (the film is set in 2013 when the Celtics were facing the Sixers in the Eastern Conference finals) with Ratner making one bad choice after another; deepening his debt rather than his pockets.

Adam Sandler is Howard Ratner in the Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems.
© A24
There's no need to go further into plot details, as the essence of the film is not reliant on the MacGuffin at the center of it, but more the way it bombards its audience with sound and visual furry to the point it embeds in you the frame of mind of the lead character. This crazy, sometimes hilarious conceit works as an experience in and of itself though, even if there's not much more for the movie to offer beyond its thrills and anxiety-riddled sequences packed together under these plot strands. Even that isn't completely true though, for if the film is able to take someone such as myself-someone whose life and life experiences don't remotely resemble Sandler's character's in this film-and transcend all of that to place me in this very specific mindset, then it would seem to be a damn authentic portrait of addiction. And not just the mind set, but the mental state...it's exhausting and yet, even when Ratner gets a little bit ahead we know and come to learn that he'll never maintain as much as he instead will use that moment of grace to push his luck that much further inevitably falling that much harder. It's a vicious cycle, but one the Safdie's successfully paint a portrait of in terms of how individuals with such complexes find the logic in their decisions.

Very much in it for the experience though, Gems cares more about the feeling someone has walking out of it than it does the contemplative thoughts about themes and ideas it might suggest. The Safdie Brothers have such a distinct style and energy that is there from moment one and that catapults their off the wall subject matter to such an alluring extent that it's near impossible to not be sucked into this place and atmosphere that they've put under a pressure cooker in order to filter out all the nonsense and take you on this whirlwind of an anxiety-inducing ride that will have one either literally sitting on the edge of their seat or pacing in the aisles beside them. Uncut Gems builds on its tension in a way that I didn’t think possible. It’s effortlessly cool, it’s fascinating in all the strangest ways with all these weird, sub-level things you wouldn’t think to put into a movie coming together and ultimately coalescing into one of my favorite films of the year.

Uncut Gems is not necessarily what one might think of as a rewarding experience, but it bears so many gifts and moments to cherish throughout that the stress inherent to them feels like little more than the price one must pay for such a high.

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