Certain expectations come with an Adam Sandler movie. However, I don’t think anyone could adequately prepare for A24’s wager-thriller Uncut Gems. This is not your typical potty humor-filled Sandler flick.

As much as Sandler’s name evokes unforgettable images of a flaming bag of dog poop and fistfights with Bob Barker, it’s here in Uncut Gems that he leaves an imprint on cinema. Sandler unleashes a career-best performance as a sleazy diamond dealer and gambling addict who is stuck at full speed.

Written and directed by Benny and Josh Safdie (Good Time, Heaven Knows What), Uncut Gems once again showcases the filmmaking brothers exploring gritty indie works that probe the New York City underworld.

In their latest, Sandler portrays unprincipled jeweler Howard Ratner, who works in the Big Apple’s Jewish Diamond District. Howard’s marriage (to Dinah, played by Frozen’s Idina Menzel) is on the rocks after an affair with a shop employee (a breakout performance by Julia Fox) and his inability to quit gambling. Any big money made at his business is quickly turned over to making high-dollar bets on such things as NBA games.

That only scratches the surface in the tightly wound web that the Safdie brothers spin. Everything seems to be specifically designed to give you a heart attack. There are few moments, if any, for you to catch your breath as we watch Howard make one wrong decision after the other.

While most people would likely learn their lesson after one swim with the sharks, that is not Howard. No matter what is thrown his way, he figuratively takes on the persona of Scarface’s Tony Montana and is powered by cocaine and unable to be put down with all the lead weight.

Sandler is a force of nature in Uncut Gems. Some film fans are aware of what he’s capable of outside the absurdity of Grown Ups and The Ridiculous 6. His foray into drama acting territory — with titles such as Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me and most recently in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories — is a flex in performance worth witnessing.

In Uncut Gems, Sandler is virtually unrecognizable wearing a leather duster, slicked-back hair and diamond stud earrings. On top of that, he has a New York accent and a different way of carrying himself. Oscar members should ready their voting cards.

The Safdie brothers delve into raw humanity like no other. They are unafraid to push audiences’ buttons and take risks. The opening alone (resembling Fight Club) features a molecular look inside a diamond that mysteriously exits out of Howard’s derriere during a colonoscopy. In what other movie are you going to see that?

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at


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