I don’t think there’s any doubt that Adam Sandler hasn’t been hitting it out the park with his recent comedic movies. With Uncut Gems, he is returning to dramatic acting and leaving behind trying to make people laugh and trying to make them feel something very different.
Throughout Uncut Gems, you’re following him from terrible decision to silly mistake to awful choice. Adam Sandler is transformed into this character of Howard, a Jewellery store owner who has a gambling problem who is always trying to find the next big score. At first, I was expecting to be rooting for this character, to be cheering him on towards the finale, but really, you’re just cringing and feeling anxious about every wrong choice he makes.
There is a line in this film, delivered by Frozen star Idina Menzel, where she refers to Sandler’s character as the most annoying person she’s ever met. That’s honestly a very accurate description of him. He is uncomfortable to watch, and you are with him for near enough every scene in the film. The characters around him are important and effect the events of the story, but it’s very much about this aggravating man that you just wish would make the right choice yet never seems to.
Uncut Gems is unusual in that watching it is not fun, or even particularly entertaining. It’s an experience that puts you in an uncomfortable state for over two hours witnessing the events unfold. The film assaults your sense’s, you follow characters through busy sets with them throwing dialogue at each other at light speed. You aren’t given time to rest and just as you think one uncomfortable scene has passed, Sandler’s character has fallen into another one for you to witness.
I can see a way in which you might empathise with Howard in this, as things fall apart around him. As much as I thought I should be liking the main character, he is just such an uncomfortable and ugly character to spend time with. I was looking for a reason to empathise with him, but he’d keep giving me reasons to find him annoying. As things unfolded, I found myself giving up trying to root for him.
The film does a phenomenal job of making things feel claustrophobic and anxiety inducing. The whole film is shot in a way that makes everything feel very intimate. Tight angles and close ups are used throughout to really add to that feeling of being trapped with this character’s issues. Even the environments, particularly the jewellers he runs, are grubby and nasty places. At one point you’re at an auction, where things are run smoothly, and everything is neatly arranged which contrasts brilliantly with the mess that is his store & his life.
Uncut Gems was an interesting experience for me. I can’t really pinpoint what I think might improve the film. It achieves exactly what it was aiming for, I just didn’t really like the experience. The weird part there is that I think that is the idea. You’re supposed to watch this film and feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to raise your anxiety levels. By the time it’s over, you just want to leave the world you’ve been inhabiting and never go back. Credit has to go to director siblings Benny & Josh Safdie for absolutely nailing their target.
Good: It forces you to feel anxious, concerned, confused and angry at the events unfolding, while you just wish he’d do the right thing at some point in the film. It makes you feel like you need a shower afterwards because you feel dirty.
Bad: It’s the least rewatchable movie since Foxcatcher.
TL:DR – Uncut Gems is a great showcase for Adam Sandler’s talent as a dramatic actor. If you’re looking for something to stress you out and spike your anxiety, this is the film for you.