March 25, 2020
Box Office $50 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use.
Stars Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch.
A disturbing and offbeat thriller from the Safdie brothers, Uncut Gems offers what is undoubtedly the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career.
Sandler plays Howard, a New York jeweler and gambling addict who is deeply indebted to loan sharks. He manages to get his hands on a rare Ethiopian black opal expecting to auction it off to raise the money to pay his debts. Yet his fortunes continue to spiral out of control as he desperately tries to stay one step ahead of his past catching up with him.
Sandler’s reputation for comedy creates a certain expectation among viewers that lends to the film’s sense of unease, as it undercuts seeming moments of levity with an undercurrent of tension that always threatens to boil over. Sandler’s presence makes it easy to root for Howard despite his constant penchant for screwing up his own life. It could almost be considered a comedy of errors if it weren’t so gritty.
Set in 2012, the film ties Howard’s predicaments to the real-life NBA playoff series between Boston and Philadelphia, with former Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett playing himself as a client of Howard. Garnett becomes obsessed with the opal, believing it gives him good luck as the series progresses, which puts Howard in a bind as he needs to hand it over to the auction house while outrunning the enforcers of his bookies, who won’t let him make any additional bets to cover his losses.
One of the highlights of the film is a starmaking turn by newcomer Julia Fox as Howard’s employee and mistress, the kind of arm candy every middle-aged sad sack wants to envision by their side.
The Blu-ray includes the featurette “Money on the Street,” a half-hour making-of video that details the extensive production history of the film, which is based on real elements from the Safdie’s own childhood remembrances of their father’s stories about the diamond district. The featurette offers some good insights from the filmmakers and cast about its themes of aspirations outpacing ability.