Directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox
Adam Sandler has always been kinda creepy. Even when Hollywood was inserting him into cookie-cutter comedies like Happy Madison or 50 First Dates (really, how could an amnesiac like Drew Barrymore take this guy’s word on anything?), there was always a transgressive glint in his eye, a feeling that he could either grope you or sucker punch you.
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The genius of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (in which Sandler and his leading lady Emily Watson express their love by listing all the ways they would mutilate each other) was that the director leaned into that creepiness. With Uncut Gems, the Safdie brothers have done Anderson one better: by casting the star in a vibrant, adrenaline-fueled dark comedy that is miles better than Anderson’s overblown romantic-comedy.
But there is desperation underneath Howard’s swagger. His wife Dinah (Frozen’s Idina Menzel) wants to call it quits. And, worse, Howard is an inveterate gambler who owes debts all over town. But Howard has a plan: He’s hoping to escape from the cycle of robbing one shady character to pay another by profiting off an uncut, illegally imported Ethiopian opal, which arrives at his airless, fortified shop the same moment as his middleman Demany (Knives Out’s Lakeith Stanfield) brings around NBA star Kevin Garnett (charmingly playing himself).
Sandler has never been more alive onscreen, balancing an addict’s desperation with a salesman’s optimism and delivering a performance that mines Howard’s sweaty humanity from his caustic loudness. And the Safdie brothers are there with him: They coaxed a vital performance out of Robert Pattinson in 2017’s wickedly fun Good Time, but here their spiraling storyline, whiplash twists and frenetic pacing are in lock-step with their leading man’s bravado. Uncut Gems is cinema at its most manic, cranked up to its highest voltage. You won’t find a more exhausting, exhilarating way to spend 135 minutes—bet on it.
Uncut Gems is currently streaming on Netflix
Photographs from A24