UNCUT GEMS – Adam Sandler Stretches His Wings


Long known for his goofy and generally lovable character, Sandler here explores the other end of the spectrum. As Howard Ratner, Sandler plays a hustler in Manhattan’s jewelry district. Always one step away from a breakthrough deal, Ratner finds his options steadily diminishing.

The film is fittingly jagged and edgy, with abrupt cuts and uncomfortable closeups. Many of the key scenes take place in Ratner’s cramped showroom, with mirrors and glass reflecting the increasing angst Ratner faces as his gambling schemes go sideways.

Benny and Josh Safdie exude their command in the shared director chair. The Safdies split writing credits with Ronald Bornstein. The plot is delightfully twisted and surprising. We have a foreboding as to where Ratner is headed, and too often we cringe at Ratner’s obsessive choices.

There are several scenes when it seems the audience can relax, mostly around Ratner and his family. But the Safdies ratchet the tension as we get exposed to intra-family acrimony. Family members are ably played by Idina Menzel, Jacob Dylan Igielski and Jonathan Aranbayev.

The ever-fascinating Eric Bogosian plays one of the heavies tracking Ratner. Bogosian is always at his best when his explosive demeanor is bubbling just below the surface, and that is the case whenever he appears here. It has been too long since we have seen Judd Hirsch, and his understated role is well-cast.

A couple cameos add to the film’s authenticity. The Weeknd is shown in performance and naturally Ratner misconstrues some extra-curricular action involving the latter’s mistress. Kevin Garnett steps out of his NBA shoes and plays himself as an aficionado of a gem Ratner hopes to parlay.

As the walls close in on Ratner the Safdies accelerates the tension. Sandler disappears into his character and the audience finally exhales as the final credits roll.

Trailer here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.