Uncut Gems Review TIFF 2019

The Plot

Howard Ratner is a flamboyant New York jeweller desperately pursing a big score while his messy life teeters on the brink of total chaos and collapse. His increasing desperation to hold his family together and his mounting enemies at bay leads him to take a series of high stakes risks that will either save or doom him.

The Good

The Safdie brothers have rapidly established a reputation for unconventional storytelling with a rich flare for combining charismatic visuals and dark subject matter. Those that have seen their previous work will no doubt welcome another dose of their distinctive efforts.

In leading man Adam Sandler they have a much maligned actor who is evidently always capable of being much more than just the unashamedly moronic lowbrow comedy star he is best known as. Sandler occasionally takes welcomed breaks from the safe money of lazy studio comedies to partner with credible storytellers like Paul Thomas Anderson or Noah Baumbach on projects that make the most of the full range of his talents. Paired with the Safdie brothers, Sandler rediscovers a gritty tragic quality long absent in his recent performances.

Those that enjoyed Sandler’s turns in films like Punch Drunk Love or Funny People will welcome this return to a more hard edged and cynical performance that pushes Sandler’s most raw and vulnerable emotional side to the forefront. Restraining his flamboyant overacting just enough to expose his more sombre and subtle skills.

A competent supporting cast helps ground Sandler’s occasionally manic performance into a more grimly realistic world. Newcomer Julia Fox in particular will undoubtedly grab attention and inevitable praise for her smouldering turn as Howard’s young mistress, while Idina Menzel makes the most of her modest role as his long suffering wife.

The Bad

Adam Sandler is an actor who lurches wildly between increasingly silly comedic efforts and occasional dramatic turns. While this arguably makes him a versatile performer, it unfortunately also saddles audiences with firm expectations about his work. After churning out a recent string of disappointingly lacklustre and sometimes outright unwatchable Netflix comedies, it may be especially  jarring to some audiences to see Sandler try to once again switch seamlessly back into a credible dramatic role.

It doesn’t help that his character Howard is a flamboyant caricature complete with an absurdly comical voice, indescribably style and a chronic propensity for slapstick failure. It’s easy to see how this project could so easily have quickly devolved into another farcical Sandler comedy. Only the film’s generally bleak and cynical tone helps redefine Sandler’s character as a more sincerely tragic and restrained presence.

In particular those expecting the usual lazy parade of Sandler’s familiar comedic buddies will obviously be left instantly disappointed not to see Rob Schneider, David Spade or Kevin James pop up for friendly pay check cameos. This is NOT one of those Adam Sandler movies.

The Ugly Truth

Uncut Gems is likely destined to become a much debated cult classic thanks to memorable visuals, a pulsing soundtrack and an intriguing turn from the perpetually enigmatic Adam Sandler. Some people will undoubtedly love the film’s visual style and unconventional narrative, while others may be far less enthusiastic about falling down a dark psychedelic downward spiral. Much like Sandler himself the film will fiercely split opinions, but at least either way is guaranteed to produce strong reactions

 Review by Russell Nelson

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