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4.5 Stars

If you’ve seen one Adam Sandler movie, you’ve seen them all. At least this appears to be the general sentiment concerning Adam Sandler’s filmography in recent years. Sure, there are bright spots, such as “Punch Drunk Love,” but it seemed for a long time that Sandler was on the painful downslope of an extremely successful, yet heavily critiqued acting career. Does “Uncut Gems” change this? In not so many words, yes.

The film is directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, who have been gaining popularity with the A24 film crowd in recent years, starting with the 2017 film “Good Time,” starring Robert Pattinson. “Uncut Gems” resembles “Good Time” in many ways, feeling like a loosely related sequel. On the surface, “Uncut Gems” is a similarly gritty character study, albeit one with a star-studded cast and a larger budget. 

Set in 2012, the film opens with several Ethiopian miners working to smuggle the eponymous uncut gem out of a cave. As one of the workers removes the stone, an opal, its luster catches his eye, and the camera falls into its kaleidoscopic refractions. The film then opens to Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner, a New York City Diamond District hustler, degenerate gambler, lousy family man and not-so-avid The Weeknd enthusiast.

Howard is always on the move, constantly “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” as the movie puts it, in order to get himself out of sticky situations in a pinch. This gives the film a frenzied sense of movement that doesn’t let up for a second. The film follows Howard, who owes money all over town, in his journey to pay back one of his most sizable debts, which is where NBA superstar Kevin Garnett comes in as Howard’s potential way out of his self-inflicted troubles. Interestingly enough, Garnett plays the role exceptionally well for one not well-versed in acting. The Safdies employ several other non-actors in roles throughout the film, to varying degrees of success.

The viewing experience itself is unique in that it feels somewhat draining and stress-filled, making it sometimes borderline uncomfortable, but it never ceases to captivate. The film was certainly one of the best of 2019, and its twist ending will leave you speechless. Unfortunately, it made headlines for the wrong reasons this past Oscar season, as it failed to receive any nominations. Considering the quality of the script, actor performances and slick cinematography, this lack of Oscar nods is abhorrent. This is not altogether surprising, considering the Academy’s past record in recognizing excellence in film, but it is lamentable nonetheless.

It’s likely that if you’re reading this movie review, this is a film you’ve heard and read about, but haven’t yet seen. I am here to tell you that as soon as this film is released to streaming platforms, you should reach for your wallet.