Starring: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel
Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Running Time: 135 mins
Uncut Gems is an American film about a New York jeweller who, struggling with a mountain of gambling debts, rolls the dice with a high-stakes bet that brings his adversaries circling, but could resolve his troubles entirely.
Bringing electrifying, modern energy to the crime drama, Uncut Gems is an undeniably striking watch throughout, thrilling with strong dramatic intrigue, a stupefying musical score and – most amazingly of all – a fantastic lead performance from the one and only Adam Sandler.
Saying all that, however, as intriguing and exciting as the drama is, Uncut Gems is often a frantic, occasionally even convoluted watch. Its main narrative arc is fascinating, bringing riveting character drama to the fore alongside a tense high-wire act of a story, but there are times where the film gets its very intricate tale in a bit of a twist, taking away from that enthralling energy.
But there’s a lot to praise about Uncut Gems, mostly in the form of that lead performance from Adam Sandler. He’s praiseworthy here not just because it’s a performance that goes strongly against type, but simply because it’s a brilliant performance, as he gives an enthralling, charismatic and insightful portrayal of a very murky individual.
With character-driven drama at its centre, Uncut Gems impresses hugely throughout as it follows Sandler’s character through a rollercoaster period in his life, as he desperately tries to fend off loan sharks while balancing his family life with a relentless desire to go further and win even bigger than he’s done before.
In that, his character is a fascinatingly ambiguous mix of good and bad throughout, as you sympathise with his struggles to get out of debt, desperately trying to find a way to pay off his loans while keeping his family and business afloat. And yet, his propensity for high-stakes gambles and bets at the most inopportune moments makes him a figure entirely deserving of criticism too.
Sandler balances those two sides to the character fantastically. While he brings grit and darkness that matches his character’s role in a brutal criminal underworld, there’s always a clear element of humanity in his performance too. He’s not a sleazebag, and although his decisions and vices are more than questionable, that humanity, familiarity and vulnerability makes him someone to sympathise with just as much.
As a result, there’s always riveting drama at the centre of Uncut Gems, and as the rollercoaster of a narrative picks up to a thrilling pace towards its conclusion, it proves a deeply engrossing and thoroughly exciting watch.
On that note, however, the film does often struggle with clarity and direction in its screenplay, often coming across as a little more chaotic and misdirected than should really be the case. It’s a tense high-wire act, so a sense of havoc and frenzy is more than appropriate for the story, but there are times when the movie gets itself in a real twist, with a number of different players all closing in on Sandler in exciting, albeit often convoluted fashion.
So, although there’s real depth and intrigue to the story here, it’s not always carried out perfectly, and it’s fair to say that things do get a little too frantic at times, often impeding the clarity and development of the core plot.
However, where the film struggles with narrative clarity, it absolutely knocks it out of the park when it comes to cinematic spectacle. The crime drama is a classic genre, and a harsh, gritty atmosphere is almost par for the course when it comes to making a crime movie, but Uncut Gems goes for something rather different, and pulls it off brilliantly.
Bolstered by a transcendent, almost psychedelic musical score that dominates the first act, the film feels almost nothing like a harsh, Taxi Driver-esque crime drama, but rather the high-stakes, modern rollercoaster it aims to be.
Couple that with a pace that’s always on the up, and Uncut Gems really impresses with its high-intensity, high-stakes atmosphere that makes it such a thrilling watch right to the finish. It may not be a perfectly straight line to the end, but the film is always full of high drama, and with such a mesmerising, surprising performance from Adam Sandler at the centre of it all, there’s no denying that it’s worth the watch, which is why I’m giving Uncut Gems a 7.6 overall.