Review: Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems.”

Dir. Josh and Benny Safdie. 160 minutes.

Many great actors spend their latter years sinking into the radioactive sludge of cinema: look at Robert De Niro in “Meet the Fockers” or Al Pacino in “Jack and Jill.” Adam Sandler seems to be driving this route in reverse: after two decades masquerading as an obnoxious hack in movies like “That’s My Boy” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” Sandler has delivered a startlingly great performance in “Uncut Gems.”

As Jewish diamond dealer Howard Ratner, Sandler is charismatic and persuasive, with the energetic determination of a man struggling to stay balanced on a high precipice. Ratner is in debt to bookies and loan-sharks, including his thuggish brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian). His marriage is disintegrating and his relationship with his mistress isn’t much better. But when Howard receives a valuable and rare black opal, he at last spies a path out of the wilderness. By piling one long-shot gamble on top of another, will Howard be able to redeem himself and pull his life together?

Infused with a frantic urgency, “Uncut Gems” is about as jarring and frightening as being awoken at 3 a.m. by a kick to the face. This is a stylish and perceptive film that reveals humanity at its most acquisitive, its most dangerous and its most wounded. “Uncut Gems” is undoubtedly a career high for its star, and establishes the Safdie brothers as two of the ablest directors under 40 working today.