Uncut Gems

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Uncut Gems
Uncut Gems poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJosh Safdie
Benny Safdie
Produced by
Written by
StarringAdam Sandler
Music byDaniel Lopatin
CinematographyDarius Khondji
Edited by
  • Ronald Bronstein
  • Benny Safdie
Production
company
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • December 13, 2019 (2019-12-13) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes[3]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$19 million[4]
Box office$50 million[4]

Uncut Gems is a 2019 American thriller film[5] directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein. The film stars Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweler and gambling addict in New York City's Diamond District, who must retrieve an expensive gem he purchased to pay off his debts. The film also stars Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, and Eric Bogosian. Filming took place from September to November 2018. The original score was composed by Daniel Lopatin.

Uncut Gems had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019. It entered into a limited release in the United States on December 13, 2019, before a wide release on December 25, by A24. The film received critical acclaim, with its screenplay, direction, editing, Sandler's performance and Darius Khondji's cinematography receiving much of the praise. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2019, with Sandler also winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. It became A24's highest-grossing film domestically with $50 million.

Plot[edit]

In 2010, Ethiopian Jewish miners retrieve a rare black opal from the Welo mine in Africa. In 2012, gambling addict Howard Ratner runs KMH, a jewelry store in New York's Diamond District. He struggles to pay off gambling debts, including the $100,000 he owes to Arno, his loan shark brother-in-law. His domestic life is split between Dinah, his estranged wife who has agreed to a divorce after Passover, and his girlfriend Julia, an employee at KMH. Howard's business associate Demany recruits basketball superstar Kevin Garnett to visit KMH, and the Ethiopian opal, which Howard had ordered, coincidentally arrives while Garnett is in the store. He shows the opal to Garnett who becomes obsessed with it, insisting on holding onto it for good luck at his game that night. Howard reluctantly agrees, accepting Garnett's NBA championship ring as collateral.

Immediately after Garnett leaves, Howard pawns the ring and places a 6-way parlay on Garnett playing extraordinarily well in that night's game. Howard wins $600,000 but is ambushed at his daughter's school play by Arno and his bodyguards Phil and Nico. Arno reveals that he placed a stop on Howard's bet as it was made with money owed to him. Phil and Nico strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his Mercedes, forcing him to call Dinah for help. Howard tracks down Demany who is at a nightclub party hosted by The Weeknd. Demany says that Garnett still has the opal, angering Howard. Furthermore, Howard discovers Julia and The Weeknd snorting cocaine together in a bathroom, causing a fistfight between Howard and The Weeknd. Howard demands that Julia move out of his apartment. After an awkward Passover dinner, Howard asks Dinah to give their marriage another chance, which she immediately rejects.

Garnett returns the opal before the auction and offers to purchase it for $175,000, but Howard refuses, given the substantially larger appraisal. Just before the auction starts, Howard discovers the opal has been appraised for significantly less than his initial estimate of $1,000,000. He convinces his father-in-law Gooey to bid on the gem to drive up the price, but the plan backfires when Garnett fails to top Gooey's final bid. A furious Gooey gives Howard the opal before Arno, Phil, and Nico confront Howard outside the auction house and assault him. Howard returns to KMH, bloody and in tears, before Julia arrives and comforts him, reconciling in the process.

Howard learns that Garnett is still willing to purchase the opal; as soon as the sale is made, Howard immediately bets the proceeds on a 3-way parlay on Garnett having a strong Game 7 performance. He tells Julia to travel by helicopter to Mohegan Sun to place the bet for him. She narrowly escapes as Arno, Phil and Nico come to KMH to collect. The thugs find Howard in his office and threaten him, but he refuses to call Julia and cancel the bet. Furious, the three attempt to pursue her, but Howard locks them in the store's mantrap. Howard excitedly watches the game on TV while Arno, Phil and Nico resignedly watch from the mantrap.

The Celtics win the game, winning Howard $1.2 million. An ecstatic Howard frees Arno, Phil and Nico from the mantrap, but an enraged Phil shoots Howard in the face, killing him. Arno protests and tries to escape but Phil shoots and kills him too. Julia hurriedly leaves the casino with Howard's winnings while Phil and Nico loot KMH just as police sirens are heard. The camera zooms in on Howard's bullet wound, revealing the uncut gem within.

Cast[edit]

Additionally, John Amos, Ca$h Out, Joe Iskhakov, and Trinidad James appear as themselves, with Amos appearing as Howard's neighbor and the others as acquaintances of Demany. Natasha Lyonne and Tilda Swinton have brief voice appearances as a Celtics staff member and an auction house manager, respectively.[6]

Production[edit]

Josh and Benny Safdie conceived the film in 2009, and approached Adam Sandler to star; however, Sandler’s manager rejected the film’s script before Sandler got a chance to read it.[7] In May 2016, it was announced that the Safdies would direct the film, from a screenplay they wrote alongside Ronald Bronstein.[8] The film was executive produced by Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Martin Scorsese, with Elara Pictures and RT Features producing the film.[8] In May 2017, Jonah Hill joined the cast, with Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Sebastian Bear-McClard joining as producers, and A24 distributing.[1]

In April 2018, Sandler replaced Hill.[9] In August 2018, Eric Bogosian and Judd Hirsch joined the cast.[10][11] In September 2018, Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel joined, with Netflix acquiring international distribution rights.[12][13] In October 2018, it was revealed that The Weeknd, Trinidad James and Pom Klementieff had joined,[14][15] followed by Kevin Garnett in November 2018.[16] Kobe Bryant, Amar'e Stoudemire and Joel Embiid were also considered for Garnett's role.[16] Principal photography began on September 25, 2018, in New York City,[17] and concluded on November 15, 2018.[18] The film was shot by Darius Khondji on 35 mm film.[19]

Daniel Lopatin composed the original soundtrack.[20] He also recorded several songs with the Weeknd for the film, which went unused; however, he has production credits on the Weeknd's most recent album, After Hours.[21] The score was released on December 13, 2019, on CD and vinyl, and digital streaming services.[22]

According to Josh and Benny Safdie, the opening and closing sequences were inspired by the gemological photomicrography of Eduard Gübelin and Danny J. Sanchez.[23][24]

The film was heavily influenced by their father's time working in the Diamond District as a salesman.[25][26]

Josh and Benny Safdie's Jewishness was essential to their crafting of the film. When creating the character of Howard, Josh and Benny Safdie said they were heavily influenced by Jewish humor and actors from the 20th Century, wanting Howard to encompass Jewish stereotypes proudly and treat them as a "superpower."[27] The Jewish concept of "learning through suffering" would be important for the character of Howard throughout the film.[27]

Release[edit]

The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019.[28][29] It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2019.[30] It was released in limited theaters the United States on December 13, 2019, and had a nationwide release on December 25, 2019.[31] It was released internationally on Netflix on January 31, 2020, and will begin streaming in the United States on May 25, 2020.[32][33]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

In its limited opening weekend the film made $537,242 from five theaters for a per-venue average of $107,448, the highest ever for A24 and the second-best total of 2019.[34] It then made $241,431 in its second weekend.[35] The film made $5.9 million on the first day of wide release (including $1.1 million from previews on Christmas Eve), the highest single-day gross in A24's history.[36] It went on to make a total of $18.5 million over the five days ($9.6 million in the weekend), finishing sixth at the box office.[37] In its second weekend of wide release the film made $7.5 million, finishing eighth.[38]

Critical response[edit]

Adam Sandler's performance garnered widespread critical acclaim, with several critics deeming it the best of his career.

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 317 reviews, with an average rating of 8.39/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Uncut Gems reaffirms the Safdies as masters of anxiety-inducing cinema—and proves Adam Sandler remains a formidable dramatic actor when given the right material."[39] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 90 out of 100, based on 56 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[40] Audiences polled by CinemaScore during the film's limited release gave it an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale; upon going wide, it earned a "C+" score, as well as an average 2 out of 5 stars on PostTrak.[34][37]

Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a grade of A, calling it "a riveting high-wire act, pairing cosmic visuals with the gritty energy of a dark psychological thriller and sudden bursts of frantic comedy".[41] Jake Cole of Slant Magazine gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing, "As in Good Time, Uncut Gems finds the Safdies working in genre rooted in the grimy, character-oriented crime films of the '70s."[42] Radheyan Simonpillai of Now commented that "there's so much propulsive, forward momentum even when the characters never get anywhere."[43] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Many will agree that this is Sandler's best performance, and the Safdies will finally move from the fringes of the commercial film scene to somewhere closer to the center."[44]

In her round-up of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Wendy Ide of The Guardian ranked Uncut Gems as one of the best films of the year, calling it "Audacious, thrilling and exhausting" and Sandler's "remarkable performance" as one of the best performances of the year, and praising the cinematography.[45] Kevin Garnett's performance was also received positively.[46][47] Brady Langmann of Esquire called it the year's best breakout performance and Alan Siegel wrote on The Ringer that it was "one of the best acting performances by an athlete ever."[48][49]

Uncut Gems was ranked by The A.V. Club as the 92nd-best film of the 2010s.[50]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result
Casting Society of America[51] January 30, 2020 Feature Big Budget – Comedy Francine Maisler Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards[52] January 12, 2020 Best Picture Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Nominated
Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Best Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society[53] December 9, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Best Use of Music Uncut Gems Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards[54] March 16, 2020 The Razzie Redeemer Award Adam Sandler Nominated
Gotham Awards[55] December 2, 2019 Best Feature Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Julia Fox Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[56] February 8, 2020 Best Feature Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Sebastian Bear-McClard Nominated
Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
Best Male Lead Adam Sandler Won
Best Screenplay Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Nominated
Best Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award[57] December 8, 2019 Best Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie runner-up
National Board of Review[58] January 8, 2020 Best Actor Adam Sandler Won
Best Original Screenplay Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
Top Ten Films Uncut Gems Won
New York Film Critics Circle[59] January 7, 2020 Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle[60] December 15, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Won
Best Score Daniel Lopatin Won
San Diego Film Critics Society[61] December 9, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
Best Original Screenplay Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie runner-up
Best Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie runner-up
Satellite Awards[62] December 19, 2019 Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Adam Sandler Nominated
St. Louis Film Critics Association[63] December 15, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Won

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Barfield, Charles (September 12, 2018). "Lakeith Stanfield Joins The Safdie Brothers' 'Uncut Gems' As Netflix Signs On For International Distribution". The Playlist. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  3. ^ "Uncut Gems". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
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  7. ^ Adam Sandler Was Offered A Role In "Uncut Gems" 10 Years Ago - CONAN on TBS, retrieved April 5, 2020
  8. ^ a b Hipes, Patrick (September 28, 2018). "Safdie Brothers' 'Uncut Gems' Scores Financing From RT Features & Scorsese's Sikelia – Cannes". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
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  29. ^ "Telluride Program Guide" (PDF). Retrieved August 29, 2019.
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  47. ^ Harris, Hunter (December 13, 2019). "Are You Ready for Kevin Garnett, the Actor?". Vulture. Retrieved January 5, 2020.
  48. ^ Langmann, Brady (December 13, 2019). "Kevin Garnett On How Playing Himself in 'Uncut Gems' Became 2019's Best Breakout Performance". Esquire. Retrieved January 5, 2020.
  49. ^ Siegel, Alan (December 13, 2019). "How Kevin Garnett Landed in 'Uncut Gems'". The Ringer. Retrieved January 5, 2020.
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  54. ^ "RAZZ NEWZ - The Razzies!". razzies.com.
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  57. ^ @LAFilmCritics (December 8, 2019). "Best Editing, Runner-up: Ronald Bronstein & Benny Safdie, UNCUT GEMS. #LAFCA" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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External links[edit]