The Netflix Crime Thriller That Will Give You A Panic Attack

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

uncut gems

Some films leave a mark. Take Uncut Gems—this Adam Sandler-led gambling extravaganza, penned and directed by the inimitable Josh and Benny Safdie (otherwise known as the Safdie brothers), will ring you out like a wet towel. In a good way. 

Howard Ratner

uncut gems

First, there’s the plot: Howard Ratner, a charismatic jeweler with a frenetic, quasi-manic, and subtly childlike energy only the Sandman can pull off, nurses a powerful gambling habit. 

His life boils down to a precarious balancing act; by day, he sells jewelry to rappers and NBA superstars (such as Kevin Garnett, who portrays himself memorably in the film); by night, he plays the odds—owing $100,000 to his brother-in-law, Arno, a loan shark, when Uncut Gems opens. 

Veritably, his gambling addiction assures Howard teeters, at all times, on the brink of disaster. Neither is his personal life a bed of roses.

Howard’s Romantic Life

Howard’s wife, Dinah, refuses to grant him a divorce until after Passover—at which point, he can take up with his twenty-something mistress, Julia (played by Julia Fox in her breakout role), full time. Julia, of course, happens to be his employee. 

Howard Isn’t Great At Decision Making

uncut gems

Uncut Gems narrative, rather than merely simmer, outright boils from the first few minutes of the film (hence the panic attack it often induces in viewers: consider yourself warned). And the boiling water overflows the pot once the film’s inciting incident kicks off: Howard acquires a rare black opal smuggled from an Ethiopian mine, a literal uncut gem he believes will solve his financial woes.

However, when Garnett convinces himself the opal bestows luck on whoever possesses it, and becomes obsessed with the stone, Howard’s situation markedly worsens. Motivated to flatter his VIP client, Howard has no choice but to loan Garnett the opal, opting for the baller’s championship ring as collateral—which the gambling addict swiftly pawns before frantically betting on Garnett’s performance in that night’s game. 

While his wager would appear successful—the victory is short-lived, and Uncut Gems intensifies from there, as Howard’s reckless decisions eventuate a cascade of dilemmas. 

Sandler Plays Hard Against Type

uncut gems

The film revolves around a stellar performance from Sandler, an actor traditionally known for his slapstick humor and lovable loser characters. The dramatic detour Billy Madison takes as Ratner is nothing short of astounding. His performance constitutes a true-blue revelation, showcasing his versatility and depth as an actor.

The Safdies Are Amazing Filmmakers

The second factor that enriches the film immeasurably is the direction by the Safdie brothers. Uncut Gems embodies a love letter to modern NYC–an increasingly gentrified and sanitized metropolis which the Safdies mine for engaging stories and characters. Sandler’s Howard, alongside Robert Pattinson’s Connie, the main character in the Safdie’s excellent previous work, Good Time, constitutes perhaps the last possible underworld anti-heroes the Big Apple can provide. 

Ultimately, Uncut Gems works on every one of your nerves: a funny, sexy, violent—and ultimately shocking—sequence of experiences, rather than scenes, that are as anxiety-inducing as they are engaging. 

The film testifies to the Safdies’ unique ability to generate suspense from the minutiae of their protagonist’s life–converting balancing debts, family, and illicit pursuits into a high-wire act of existential dread. All at a breakneck pac, never even momentarily shirking on character development or thematic depth. 

The Reception To Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems earned widespread critical acclaim—a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 350 reviews, for instance. Critics lauded how the film evidenced the Safdies’ skill in engendering tension-filled cinema, as well as Adam Sandler’s prowess as a dramatic actor. 

Of course, experts particularly fussed about Sandler’s excellence; most consider the role the finest of his career. Critics noted with marked awe his ability to navigate the complex emotional landscape of his character.

Financially, against a $19 million budget, the film returned $50 million—a terrific profit, and well deserved.

Long story short, Uncut Gems is an enormous asset to the world’s biggest streaming platform. 

Sandler Wasn’t The First Choice

Additionally, fans may not know that Jonah Hill was initially tapped to play Ratner before being replaced by Sandler. The film also features a fantastic cameo from The Weeknd–alongside Trinidad James. The movie’s score, celebrated in its own right and inseparable from the movie’s ambiance, was composed by Daniel Lopatin. 

Because it’s unmissable, stream Uncut Gems today.