This Christmas, a depressing, degenerate gambler will be gracing movie screens everywhere, as an anti-holiday release by A24 Films hopes to grab your attention and get your admission into theaters, but the bigger gamble is by none other than Mr. Billy Madison, himself.
The words “crime drama” and “Adam Sandler” have hardly been uttered together before… but with the release of Uncut Gems, there it is. Leading up to the filming of this movie, the Safdie Brothers had been primarily known for their indie films and Sandler was known for his trademarked baby talk, followed by shouting like an idiot. So, what did the filmmakers think the former Saturday Night Live comedian could bring to their dark dramedy?
Howard Ratner is a complicated character. Sure, he’s a loudmouth jeweler in New York City looking to break free from his gambling addiction, but it’s this addiction that brings him both pleasure and pain, which he’s not so quick to end. This addiction has been constantly eroding his personal and professional lives, and Howard promises himself one last score tied to African mines that could possibly set him up for success, which could stretch out for many, many years to come. Quite simply, he’s a con man trying to pay off his debt.
Adam Sandler makes an interesting choice as a dramatic actor, because he’s never quite panning for laughs. There are oddly funny moments scattered throughout the film, but they’re nothing quite like the jokes in his previous movies. These are usually attached to pain and violence. Pain in being an underdog whose been beaten down so often, he doesn’t know what it’s like to experience only one iota of success. Violence in never quite paying off those debts, but all that’s about to change…
Sandler is taking a huge gamble with this role as a gambler and it’s already paying off. The actor’s chops have finally been challenged. He previously received praise for his work in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, but somehow didn’t get much attention in my favorite Sandler movie, The Wedding Singer. The third time may finally be the charm. He’s already received Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards acting nominations, with a Best Actor win coming from the National Board of Review. Could an Oscar nom be next?
Written and directed by the Safdie Brothers, I’m not a big fan of Sandler’s character, as he’s incredibly unlikable, constantly doing unlikable things. It doesn’t help that his arc is unsuccessful, as he never gets the opportunity to be redeemed. Watching his struggles is an incredibly painful experience. With Scott Rudin and Martin Scorsese appearing as executive producers, I was expecting a little more from the entire storyline, but Sandler handles the character well.
As a side note about the film: Kudos to LaKeith Stanfield, who plays an incredibly different character than his minor role in the recently released Knives Out and I would be remiss if I didn’t praise former basketball player Kevin Garnett’s emerging acting skills — as a life-long suffering Boston Celtics fan, I was pleasantly surprised.
I’m a huge proponent of A24 Films and my ears perk up every time I hear about a new release. Fans of Sandler’s past work and serious acting fans should both give this film an opportunity, because both of them should be surprised by what they experience…. which may eventually lead to the words “Adam Sandler” and “Oscar winner” in the same sentence, a scenario that could possibly pave a new path for the actor’s future.