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Uncut Gems

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
  • A24 (United States)
  • Netflix (International)
Release dates
  • August 30, 2019 (2019-08-30) (Telluride)
  • December 13, 2019 (2019-12-13) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$19 million
Box office$50 million

Uncut Gems is a 2019 American crime thriller film directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein. The film 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 was Sandler's first widely released film in an on-screen role since Pixels in 2015.

Uncut Gems premiered at the 46th 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 widespread critical acclaim, especially for Sandler's performance, which several reviewers described as the best of his career. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2019.

Plot

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

After Garnett leaves, Howard pawns the ring, placing a six-way parlay on him playing extraordinarily well in that night's game, which he does. The next day, Demany says that Garnett still has the opal, angering him. Howard is ambushed at his daughter's school play by Arno and his mafia handlers, Phil and Nico. His winning bet should have won him $600,000, but Arno placed a stop on the bet, as it was made with money Howard owed him. 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, but learns that Garnett still has it. Howard finds Julia snorting cocaine in a bathroom with the Weeknd and, believing they were having sex, gets into a fight with him. Feeling betrayed, Howard confronts Julia and demands that she move out of his apartment.

Garnett returns the opal before an auction, 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 it's at his house. After Garnett leaves in dismay, Howard berates Demany for allowing Garnett to hold onto the opal for so long. Incensed, Demany quits, trashing Howard's office. After an awkward Passover dinner, Dinah rejects Howard's plea to give their marriage another chance.

Just before the auction starts, Howard discovers the opal has in fact been appraised for significantly less than his initial estimate of $1 million. 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 assault him outside the auction house. He returns to KMH, bloody and in tears. Julia comforts him and they reconcile.

Howard learns Garnett still wants to buy the opal, so he pays him at KMH with cash. Although Howard could repay his debt to Arno, he asks Julia to put the cash on a three-way parlay on Garnett having a strong performance. Arno, Phil, and Nico arrive at KMH just before Garnett leaves, but before they enter Howard's office, Julia escapes. The thugs find and threaten him, while she goes by helicopter to the Mohegan Sun casino to place the bet. Arno tells Howard to call Julia and cancel it, but he refuses. Furious, the three attempt to pursue her, but Howard locks them between the store's security doors. He watches the game on television, taunting the three by pointing out their court-side mob associates while they remain trapped.

Garnett's Boston Celtics win the game, earning Howard $1.2 million. Ecstatic, he frees the three thugs, 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 as Phil and Nico loot the store.

Cast

  • 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 girlfriend
  • 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 and Howard's brother-in-law
  • Judd Hirsch as Gooey, Howard's father-in-law
  • Keith William Richards as Phil, Arno's quick-tempered henchman
  • Tommy Kominik as Nico, Arno's henchman
  • Jonathan Aranbayev as Eddie Ratner, Howard's older son
  • Noa Fisher as Marcel Ratner, Howard's daughter
  • Jacob Igielski as Beni Ratner, Howard's younger son
  • Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye, as himself
  • Mike Francesa as Gary, Howard's bookie
  • Wayne Diamond as himself, a wealthy fashion designer and gambler who takes a liking to Julia
  • Josh Ostrovsky as Noah, Howard's cousin
  • Mitchell Wenig as Larry, a man whom Howard owes money

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. Natasha Lyonne and Tilda Swinton have voice appearances as a Celtics staff member and an auction house manager, respectively. Pom Klementieff has a cameo as Lexis, a friend of Julia.

Production

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. In May 2016, it was announced that the Safdies would direct the film from a screenplay they wrote alongside Ronald Bronstein. The film's executive producers were Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Martin Scorsese, and it was produced by Elara Pictures and RT Features. In May 2017, Jonah Hill joined the cast, with Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Sebastian Bear-McClard joining as producers and A24 distributing.

In April 2018, Sandler replaced Hill. In August 2018, Eric Bogosian and Judd Hirsch joined the cast. In September 2018, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel joined, with Netflix acquiring international distribution rights. Kobe Bryant, Amar'e Stoudemire and Joel Embiid were also considered for Garnett's role. In October 2018, it was revealed that The Weeknd, Trinidad James and Pom Klementieff had joined the cast. Klementieff's scenes, apart from a brief cameo during the film's opening credits, were cut from the final edit. Principal photography began on September 25, 2018, in New York City, and concluded on November 15, 2018. The film was shot by Darius Khondji on 35 mm film, using long zoom lenses.

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

The opening and closing sequences were inspired by the gemological photomicrography of Eduard Gübelin and Danny J. Sanchez.

Josh and Benny Safdie's Jewish upbringing was essential to their crafting of the film. The story was heavily influenced by their father's time working in the Diamond District as a salesman. 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." The Jewish concept of "learning through suffering" would be important for the character of Howard throughout the film.

Release

Uncut Gems had its world premiere at the 46th Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019. It also screened at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2019. It was released in limited theaters in the United States on December 13, 2019, and had a nationwide release on December 25, 2019. It was released internationally on Netflix on January 31, 2020, and began streaming in the United States on May 25, 2020.

Reception

Box office

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. It then made $241,431 in its second weekend. 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. 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. In its second weekend of wide release, the film made $7.5 million, finishing eighth. With $50 million, Uncut Gems was A24's highest-grossing film domestically until it was surpassed by Everything Everywhere All at Once in May 2022.

Critical response

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

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 345 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10. 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." Metacritic gave the film a weighted average score of 91 out of 100, based on 56 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". 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.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls 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." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times: "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." 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". 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." Radheyan Simonpillai of Now commented that "there's so much propulsive, forward momentum even when the characters never get anywhere." 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."

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. Kevin Garnett's performance was also praised, 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."

Accolades

The film was highly rated on many critics end of year top lists, and Metacritic compiled those mentions and ranked the film 5th overall for 2019. Uncut Gems was ranked by The A.V. Club as the 92nd-best film of the 2010s.

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result
Casting Society of America January 30, 2020 Feature Big Budget – Comedy Francine Maisler Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards 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 December 9, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Best Use of Music Uncut Gems Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle December 23, 2019 Best Original Screenplay Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
Best Score Daniel Lopatin Won
Golden Raspberry Awards March 16, 2020 Razzie Redeemer Award Adam Sandler Nominated
Gotham Awards December 2, 2019 Best Feature Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Actor Adam Sandler Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Julia Fox Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards 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 December 8, 2019 Best Editing Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie Runner-up
National Board of Review 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 January 7, 2020 Best Director Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie Won
San Diego Film Critics Society 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 December 19, 2019 Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Uncut Gems Nominated
Best Actor – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Adam Sandler Nominated
Saturn Awards 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 December 15, 2019 Best Actor Adam Sandler Won

Reaction to award nominations

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. 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 and said, "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." When nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards were announced in January 2020, Sandler did not receive a nomination. Reacting to the announcement, Sandler 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."

See also


This page was last updated at 2022-11-28 11:28 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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