This movie, Adam Sandler’s latest, was released in theaters at the end of last year. It promised a totally new type of role for Sandler, but my thought at the time was, eh, maybe not.
The classic Sandler vehicle is 1995’s Billy Madison, in which he plays the unaccomplished son of a father who forces him to repeat his school years, starting with grade one, to prove that he can manage and inherit the family business. Indignities ensue, but it is a comedy, and all works out well. Trivial and not very interesting.
This story is not so simplistic. Now middle-aged, Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweler in New York’s diamond district who lives on the edge, always on the edge.
Howard has an exasperated wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel), and three nice children in New Jersey and an equally exasperating girlfriend, his comely employee, Julia (Julia Fox), who lives in his vulgar bachelor apartment in the city. As the film begins, we learn that he owes his goyish brother-in-law, Arno (Eric Bogosian), $100,000.
But of course Howard has a plan. His ace in the whole is an Ethiopian rock studded with opals that arrives in his office in an unusual fashion and at a fortuitous moment — when Kevin Garnett (the real one, then of the Boston Celtics) arrives, accompanied by Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), who is showing the out-of-towner around the jewelry district.
Garnett is taken immediately by the stone, which his character suspects will bring him power or luck. He insists on taking the stone with him and plans to purchase it later. As security, he gives Howard his diamond- and emerald-encrusted 2008 NBA championship ring. Howard takes the ring and pawns it because he has a bigger plan. He always has a bigger plan, and he’s always one step away from a disaster. And, by the way, he likes to place bets on professional basketball.
So it goes, and goes, and goes. For those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of NBA sports betting or the consequences of messing with unsavory characters in the diamond district, keeping up is a challenge, but but the tension is constant.
For Sandler, the film demonstrates an acting range that he seems to have been seeking in recent years. Same for Kevin Garnett and some character known as the Wkend — wins all round.
For brothers Benjamin and Josh Safdie, whose last film, 2017’s Good Time, was more popular with critics than audiences, this Netflix release has sold well in the U.S. and abroad, even though its full theatrical run was cut short by the pandemic. The Safdies’ approach to stories is novel and worth interest. We will be seeing more from them over time.
Said shorter, Uncut Gems is worth a watch.