‘Uncut Gems’ an unrelenting experience grounded by Sandler’s performance; Griffin’s score: 8/10

(A24 Studios)

“Uncut Gems” is the latest film written and directed by the Safdie brothers, Josh and Benny Safdie, and stars Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler constantly living on the edge of high-stake bets and trying to collect the biggest score he can. As his wagers pay off or fall through, Howard’s life is thrown into a constant state of flux and he continues to grow further away from his family while getting too close to some unsavory characters in the gambling world. Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett and Eric Bogosian join the cast as well and play different people in Howard’s anxiety-fueled life. He has different relationships and power dynamics with all of them and they each present a new challenge or opportunity for Howard whenever they enter the frame.

Similar to the performance in a film that came out earlier this year, Sandler’s performance is the load-bearing wall of “Uncut Gems” in the same way Joaquin Phoenix’s performance does most of the work holding up “Joker.” Sandler has made some dramatic turns in his acting career before, but this may be award-winning work for the longtime comedic star. Howard is not a character that we’re supposed to like. He’s sleazy, dishonest, selfish and obnoxious, and if anyone else was playing him, it could be a problem for the movie. However, Sandler is the perfect acting choice for this character, and he brings a familiar charm to the role that makes us pull for him against our better judgement. As the film progresses, you find yourself hoping that Howard will make the right decisions to get himself out of his situation, and even if he doesn’t, you’re still pulling for him to make it out of his mess OK. We want to see Howard pull everything off and that is critical when you consider the technical aspects of the movie.

The Safdie brothers have already firmly established their style of filmmaking: relentless, fast-paced, intense films designed to make the audience anxious in their seats. The editing, sound design, camera work, script and everything else in “Uncut Gems” is designed to make you uncomfortable. Even two people just talking to one another gets the Safdie treatment and often becomes a stressful screaming match between the two characters. That’s where Sandler’s performance really gives this movie a bump. Because he is so endearing as Howard and we want to see him get through the film safely, we feel every anxiety-filled speed bump along the way and aren’t allowed to take a breath until the credits finally roll.

Overall, “Uncut Gems” is another solid entry to the Safdie brothers’ growing filmography and gives us, arguably, Sandler’s greatest dramatic performance to date. If you can stand the intensity that builds throughout the runtime and culminates in a powerful ending, “Uncut Gems” is definitely worth checking out as awards season begins to wind down.

Griffin’s score: 8/10

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Nick Griffin