Uncut Gems

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Uncut Gems
A black and white image of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) with a tissue paper stuffed into one of his nostrils.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJosh Safdie
Benny Safdie
Written by
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyDarius Khondji
Edited by
  • Ronald Bronstein
  • Benny Safdie
Music byDaniel Lopatin
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 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 crime thriller film[5] directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein. It stars Adam Sandler, LaKeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, and Eric Bogosian. The film tells the story of Howard Ratner (Sandler), a Jewish-American jeweler and gambling addict in New York City's Diamond District, who must retrieve an expensive gem he purchased in order to pay off his debts. Filming took place from September to November 2018. The original score was composed by Daniel Lopatin. Uncut Gems is the last film directed by the Safdie brothers before dissolving their partnership in 2024.[6]

The film premiered at the 46th Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019. A24 gave it a limited release in the United States on December 13, 2019, and a wide release on December 25. Uncut Gems was a box office success and received acclaim, especially for Sandler's performance, which several reviewers described as the best of his career. The film was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2019.

Plot[edit]

In 2010, Ethiopian Jewish miners retrieve a rare black opal from the Welo mine in Ethiopia. In 2012, Howard Ratner runs the KMH jewelry store in New York City's Diamond District. A gambling addict, he struggles to pay off his debts, which includes $100,000 he owes to Arno, his loan shark brother-in-law. Howard's domestic life is split between his children and wife Dinah, who has agreed to divorce him after Passover, and his girlfriend Julia, a KMH employee.

Howard's business associate Demany brings basketball star Kevin Garnett to KMH. While he is there, the opal, which Howard had smuggled in, arrives. Garnett becomes obsessed with it, insisting on holding onto it for good luck at his game that night. Howard reluctantly agrees, demanding Garnett's 2008 NBA Championship ring as collateral. Howard quickly pawns the ring, placing a six-way parlay with his bookie on Garnett playing extraordinarily well, which he does.

The next day, Demany fails to return the opal as agreed, angering Howard. They travel to meet Garnett, who is hours away in Philadelphia, but Demany abandons Howard when they arrive. That night, Howard is ambushed at his daughter's school play by Arno and his hired henchmen, Phil and Nico. He learns Arno stopped his bet, which would have won him $600,000. Phil and Nico strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his car, forcing him to call Dinah for help.

Howard meets Demany at a nightclub party hosted by R&B singer the Weeknd to retrieve the opal, only to find that Garnett still has it. Howard discovers Julia with the Weeknd and fights him, believing they were having sex. Howard demands Julia move out of his apartment.

Garnett returns the opal, offering to purchase it for $175,000, but Howard refuses, as he believes it is worth much more. Garnett demands his ring back, but Howard lies that he has it at his home. After Garnett leaves, Howard berates Demany for allowing Garnett to hold onto the opal for so long. Enraged, Demany trashes Howard's office.

After an awkward Passover dinner, Dinah rejects Howard's plea to give their marriage another chance. Just before the auction, Howard learns the opal is worth much less than his $1 million estimate. He convinces his father-in-law Gooey to bid to drive up the price, but the plan backfires when Garnett declines to top Gooey's final bid. A furious Gooey gives Howard the opal before Arno, Phil, and Nico assault him outside the auction house.

Howard returns to KMH, bloody and in tears. Julia comforts him and they reconcile. He retrieves Garnett's ring from the pawn shop, but because he failed to retrieve it in the allotted time, he's forced to exchange his prized 1973 Knicks ring for it. Garnett, still desiring the opal, pays Howard with cash at KMH. Instead of repaying his debt, Howard asks Julia to put the cash on a three-way parlay on Garnett having another strong performance in the day's game. Arno, Phil, and Nico arrive at the store and threaten Howard; Julia departs with the cash via helicopter to the Mohegan Sun casino to place the bet.

Refusing to call off the bet, Howard traps the men in-between the store's security doors. He watches the game on television, in which the Celtics win the game, earning Howard $1.2 million. Ecstatic, he frees Arno and his men, but an enraged Phil shoots Howard in the face, killing him instantly. Arno protests before attempting to escape, leading Phil to shoot him dead as well. Julia leaves the casino with Howard's winnings and Phil and Nico loot the store while police sirens are heard.

Cast[edit]

  • Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweler and gambling addict
  • LaKeith Stanfield as Demany, an intermediary who recruits clients for Howard
  • Julia Fox as Julia De Fiore, Howard's employee and mistress
  • Kevin Garnett as himself, a professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics who takes a liking to Howard's rare black opal
  • Idina Menzel as Dinah Ratner, Howard's soon-to-be-ex-wife
  • Eric Bogosian as Arno Moradian, a loan shark who is married to Dinah's sister
  • Judd Hirsch as Gooey, Howard's father-in-law
  • Keith William Richards as Phil, Arno's quick-tempered lead goon
  • Mike Francesa as Gary, Howard's bookie
  • Jonathan Aranbayev as Eddie Ratner, Howard's older son
  • Noa Fisher as Marcel Ratner, Howard's daughter
  • The Weeknd[7] as himself
  • Tommy Kominik as Nico, one of Arno's goons
  • Maksud Agadjani as Yussi, Howard's dissatisfied employee
  • Andrea Linsky as Joani, one of Howard's employees
  • Roman Persits as Roman, the jeweler at Howard's shop
  • Arthur Borukhov as Elan, one of Howard's employees
  • Ronald Greenberg as Rodney Bronstein, a pawnbroker
  • Marshall Greenberg as Steve Bronstein, a pawnbroker
  • Jacob Igielski as Beni Ratner, Howard's younger son
  • Hailey Gates as Adley's Receptionist
  • Mitchell Wenig as Larry, a man whom Howard owes money
  • Keren Shemel as Eiline Goldfarb, the mother of one of Marcel's classmates
  • Aren Topian as Eric Goldfarb, the father of one of Marcel's classmates
  • Louis Anthony Arias as Buddy, one of Arno's goons
  • Anthony Mecca as Michael, one of Arno's goons
  • Jake Ryan as 'Dwarf 2'
  • Greg Yuna as Flawless (a fictionalized version of himself), a jeweler to celebrities
  • Benjy Kleiner as Aaron, Dinah's brother
  • Josh Ostrovsky as Noah, Dinah's cousin
  • Alexander Gilkes as Adley's Auctioneer
  • Jennifer Sacks as Kevin Garnett's Manager
  • Wayne Diamond as High Roller (a fictionalized version of himself), a wealthy fashion designer and gambler who takes a liking to Julia[8]
  • Ara Daglian as Gambler in Sports Book, who talks with Julia at the casino

John Amos, Ca$h Out, and Trinidad James appear as themselves, with Amos appearing as Howard's neighbor and the others as acquaintances of Demany.[9] Tilda Swinton and Natasha Lyonne have vocal cameos as the auction manager and a Celtics staff member, respectively,[10] and Doc Rivers has a vocal cameo as himself. Pom Klementieff has a brief cameo as Lexis, a friend of Julia.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Josh and Benny Safdie's Jewish upbringing was essential to their crafting of the film, and the story was heavily influenced by their father's time working in the Diamond District as a salesman.[11][12][13] When creating the character of Howard, they 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."[14] The Jewish concept of "learning through suffering" was important for the character of Howard throughout the film.[14] The Safdies conceived the film in 2009, and approached Adam Sandler to star, but Sandler's manager rejected the script before Sandler got a chance to read it.[15]

In May 2016, it was announced that the Safdies were going to direct the film from a screenplay they wrote alongside Ronald Bronstein,[16] and that Elara Pictures and RT Features would produce, with Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Martin Scorsese serving as executive producers.[16] Jonah Hill joined the cast in May 2017, with Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, and Sebastian Bear-McClard set to produce, and A24 distributing.[1]

Sandler replaced Hill in April 2018.[17] Eric Bogosian and Judd Hirsch joined the cast that August,[18][19] and, the next month, Kevin Garnett, LaKeith Stanfield, and Idina Menzel joined the project, with Netflix acquiring international distribution rights.[20][21][22] Kobe Bryant, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Joel Embiid were also considered for Garnett's role.[20] The Safdies had originally written the part with Bryant in mind, but by the time they finished the script, Bryant was only interested in directing.[23] Embiid was attached to the film at one point, but he could no longer take the role when production was moved to the fall, as he would be busy playing basketball, so the Safdies began to look at retired players, and settled on Garnett.[24]

In October 2018, it was revealed that the Weeknd, Trinidad James, and Pom Klementieff had joined the cast.[25] Klementieff's scenes, apart from a brief cameo during the film's opening credits, were cut from the final edit.

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began on September 25, 2018, in New York City,[26] and concluded on November 15.[27] The film was shot by Darius Khondji on 35 mm film, using long zoom lenses.[28][29] The opening and closing sequences were inspired by the gemological photomicrography of Eduard Gübelin and Danny J. Sanchez.[30][31]

Music[edit]

Daniel Lopatin composed the film's original score.[32] He also recorded several songs with the Weeknd for the film, but they went unused; however, he has production credits on the Weeknd's 2020 album, After Hours.[33] A soundtrack album of Lopatin's music for the film was released on December 13, 2019, on CD, vinyl, and digital streaming services.[34]

Release[edit]

Uncut Gems had its world premiere at the 46th Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019,[35][36] and it screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on September 9.[37] It received a limited theatrical release in the United States on December 13, before its nationwide release on December 25.[38] The film was released internationally on Netflix on January 31, 2020, and it began streaming on the service in the United States on May 25, 2020.[39][40]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

The first weekend of its limited release, the film made $537,242 from five theaters; its per-venue average of $107,448 was the highest ever for A24 and the second-best of any film released in 2019.[41] It made $241,431 its second weekend in theaters.[42]

The film made $5.9 million on the first day of its wide release (including $1.1 million from previews on Christmas Eve), which was the highest single-day gross in A24's history.[43] It went on to make a total of $18.5 million over the five-day long holiday weekend ($9.6 million of which was during the weekend-proper), finishing sixth at the box office.[44] In its second weekend of wide release, the film made $7.5 million, finishing eighth at the box office.[45] By the end of its theatrical run, the film had earned $50 million, and it was A24's highest-grossing film domestically until it was surpassed by Everything Everywhere All at Once in May 2022.[46]

Critical response[edit]

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

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 91% based on 350 reviews, with an average score of 8.4/10; the site's "critics 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."[47] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 91 out of 100 based on reviews by 56 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[48] 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 score of 2 out of 5 stars on PostTrak.[41][44]

Sandler's performance received critical acclaim, with some commentators calling it the best of his career.[49][50][51] [52] After the film debuted at Telluride, 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."[53] 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".[54]

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 a genre rooted in the grimy, character-oriented crime films of the '70s."[55] Radheyan Simonpillai of Now commented that "there's so much propulsive, forward momentum even when the characters never get anywhere."[56] 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", describing Sandler's "remarkable performance" as one of the best performances of the year, and praising the cinematography.[57]

Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times said: "Directed with relentless tension and diamond-hard intelligence by Josh and Benny Safdie (who earlier this month won directing honors from the New York Film Critics Circle), Uncut Gems is a thriller and a character study, a tragedy and a blast."[58] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called the film "a cinema of pure energy and grungy voltage, and the Safdies make it look very easy. This will be the year's most exciting film."[59]

Kevin Garnett's performance was also praised,[60][61] with Brady Langmann of Esquire calling it the year's best breakout performance, and Alan Siegel writing on The Ringer that it was "one of the best acting performances by an athlete ever."[62][63]

Accolades[edit]

According to a list compiled by Metacritic, Uncut Gems was included on the fifth-most year-end "Top Ten" lists of the best films of 2019 that were published by major film critics and publications.[64] The film was ranked by The A.V. Club as the 92nd-best film of the 2010s.[65]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result
Casting Society of America[66] January 30, 2020 Feature Big Budget – Comedy Francine Maisler Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards[67] 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[68] December 9, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Best Use of Music Uncut Gems Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle[69] December 23, 2019 Best Original Screenplay Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, and Josh Safdie Won
Best Score Daniel Lopatin Won
Golden Raspberry Awards[70] March 16, 2020 Razzie Redeemer Award Adam Sandler Nominated
Gotham Awards[71] December 2, 2019 Best Feature Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Julia Fox Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[72] 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[73] December 8, 2019 Best Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie Runner-up
National Board of Review[74] 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[75] January 7, 2020 Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
San Diego Film Critics Society[76] 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[77] December 19, 2019 Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Adam Sandler Nominated
Saturn Awards[78] 2021 Best Thriller Film Uncut Gems Nominated
Seattle Film Critics Society December 19, 2019 Best Picture Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Nominated
Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Best Film Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie Won
Best Score Daniel Lopatin Won
St. Louis Film Critics Association[79] December 15, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Won

Reaction to award nominations[edit]

Critics and commentators considered Sandler to be a viable contender to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Uncut Gems.[80] During a December 2019 interview with Howard Stern, Sandler jokingly promised to make the "worst movie ever" if he did not win an Oscar for Uncut Gems, saying: "If I don't get it, I'm going to ... come back and do one again that is so bad on purpose just to make you all pay. That's how I get them."[81]

When nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced in January 2020, Sandler did not receive a nomination. Reacting to the announcement, he congratulated Kathy Bates—his former co-star in The Waterboy (1998)—on her Best Supporting Actress nomination, and wrote: "Bad news: Sandman gets no love from the Academy. Good news: Sandman can stop wearing suits."[80]

References[edit]

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