Rarely does Adam Sandler get confused with being an Oscar-worthy actor. Don’t get me wrong. Sandler has had a ridiculously successful film career, one that he has extended by shifting predominantly to the streaming giant Netflix, where he entertains his audience and employs close pals like David Spade and Chris Rock in pictures like The Do-Over and The Week Of, respectively.
That’s not to say, though, that Sandler’s name hasn’t been linked with critically-acclaimed performances from time to time, reminding film journalists – perhaps in a frustrating fashion – that the volatile man-child can be utterly captivating when he tries to find a project that fits snuggly in his wheelhouse. Sandler’s patent fits of rage and adolescence were mined for beauty by Paul Thomas Anderson in Punch-Drunk Love and Judd Apatow (for half of Funny People). And the phenomenon is happening again.
Sandler’s new film, Uncut Gems, teams him with the promising filmmaking duo of Benny and Josh Safdie, music and short-film helmers who shocked the community in 2017 with sweaty, sleazy, nail-biting Good Time. That late-night thriller reminded people of Robert Pattinson’s pure talents, and their follow-up is doing the same for the one-time Happy Gilmore.
In Uncut Gems, Sandler owns the role of Howard Ratner, a mid-level Manhattan jeweler who occasionally caters to NBA superstars when his partner, Demany (LaKeith Stanfield), can lure them into their Manhattan shop. When not selling rings or chains to the likes of Kevin Garnett (who plays himself in the movie), Howard nurses a debilitating gambling habit… one that has him into a lot of debt with some seriously bad dudes.
But Howard has a plan. He has obtained a very rare gem from Africa – one that he believes can be auctioned off for more than $1 million. Naturally, the appearance of the stone triggers more problems than Howard anticipated, and anyone who saw the Safdies turn the screws on RPatz in Good Time know just how bad things are about to get for Sandler before his night is through.
The thing about Punch-Drunk Love also becomes the thing for Uncut Games. Neither role required Adam Sandler to stretch too far from what he’s comfortable doing. Instead, the Safdie brothers create a pent-up, fast-talking riff on a persona you might have heard on a Sandler comedy record, or in a Netflix film. Only, they film they built around Sandler is so much better than his usual.
Uncut Gems applies the pressure and never really stops. It’s not as airtight as Good Time, but it’s an uncomfortable trip through some areas of New York City we rarely see on screen, and Sandler is the ideal tour guide. He plays a defensive, beaten-down yet eager-to-please mid-level con artist with ease, and the agitated energy he brings to his comedy ends up being the exact vibe that the Safdie brothers wanted for Uncut Gems. It’s a terrific Sandler performance, and coming on the heels of the also impressive The Meyerowitz Stories, it makes me think the actor might be ready to move into the next phase of his career.
Could Adam Sandler get an Oscar nomination for Uncut Gems? He’s certainly a candidate. The only thing that might hold him up is the stiff competition in the category, as we can also predict solid chances for people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix, Adam Driver and Christian Bale.
But at the very least, Adam Sandler’s an Oscar contender for Uncut Gems in September, and when’s the last time you could say that with a straight face.