Uncut Gems is a heart attack on film.

Colleen Secaur, Managing Editor

Adam Sandler did not amass a net worth of nearly $500 million by doing critically acclaimed indie films. Rather, tentpoles of his production company, Happy Madison, such as Jack and Jill (3% on Rotten Tomatoes), Grown Ups (10%), and Blended (14%) focused on making millions and millions of dollars overseas. While this approach has made him immensely rich, more than the detractors that ultimately led to him being fired from Saturday Night Live in 1995 could have ever predicted, it’s led to a certain level of animosity with film critics.

However, his enduring, somewhat innocent man-child shtick, his unique embrace of Jewish culture in the mainstream, and his singular comedic voice have made him somewhat of a black sheep favorite among auteurs such as P.T. Anderson and Noah Baumbach. In their films, Punch Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories respectively, each director harnesses these traits to resoundingly heartfelt impact, leading critics to ask why Sandler’s made such “bad” movies (a question he derides). The Safdie brothers, in their latest breakneck New York thriller Uncut Gems, have now harnessed a different facet of Sandler’s talents – his frequent and sudden outbursts of unbridled rage.

In Uncut Gems, Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a man described by his wife as “the most annoying person I have ever met,” a compulsive gambler, adulterer, and sleazy jeweler to the stars. Ratner, in the early scenes of the film, procures a rare uncut black opal mined by Ethiopian Jews and proceeds to use it to, in no particular order, attempt to blackmail Kevin Garnett, rack up debt, pay off his debt, and dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole. With each subsequent scene of self-sabotage, your heart clenches tighter and tighter, even as you question why exactly you feel this particular brand of paranoia for an objectively awful man. This is where the Safdies, lifelong Sandler fanatics, so effectively weaponize his appeal. His raw bursts of anger, his Jewish persona, and above all, his ability to elicit sympathy in spite of the most objectively horrible actions — these are all classic traits of Sandler comedies that are manipulated into a darker and more twisted character.

Despite Sandler’s bravura performance, praise is also due for the Safdies, who have made their name for years off of a similar vein of gritty New York-based films such as Heaven Knows What and Good Time. They’ve been quite open about the long process of making Uncut Gems, and several high-paced scenes involving Ratner and vicious gambling debt collectors are soaring directorial feats that make the audience feel the pounding fear and adrenaline on the screen. Their signature casting choices of casting real-life New York people in roles as essentially themselves lets the story sting as something that feels like a documentary too wild to be released. Julia Fox, a self-described “classic New York biotch”, Kevin Garnett as himself, and the Weeknd as himself all add elements unnecessary to the plot from time to time but make their depiction of New York in 2012 feel all too real.

Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner has been on the receiving end of much of Uncut Gems’s critical praise, and he’s been on an uncharacteristic weeks-long press tour promoting the film, but the raw brilliance everyone who worked on the film was able to achieve is not something that can be credited to one person. It’s unequivocally a movie-going experience, and not a passive film for the audience.