With Uncut Gems, directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie offer a pure slice of life in their native New York, with an explosive tale about diamonds, basketball, the Jewish community, and gambling.
The film stars New Yorker Adam Sandler, who made his name in the Big Apple as a young comedian on Saturday Night Live.
Sandler is now firmly ensconced in middle age, and drama is not his usual fare. But the film offers him a chance to stretch his acting muscles, and there is plenty of Oscar buzz.
Alongside Sandler are, in no particular order, retired basketball superstar Kevin Garnett, singer The Weeknd and actress Idina Menzel, who etched her place in history as Elsa in Disney’s animated mega-hit Frozen.
Leave it to the mercurial Safdie brothers to unite them on screen in a film that defies labels and takes the viewer from the diamond mines of Ethiopia to the Diamond District in Manhattan.
The pair spent a decade putting together Uncut Gems, which hits US theaters on Friday and will be distributed by Netflix abroad in January.
In the interim, they made four films— two documentaries and two feature films including Good Time starring Robert Pattinson, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017.
“Gems was our North Star for the past 10 years, and everything that we made in the journey of trying to get this made was a footnote of the film,” Josh Safdie said at a screening in Santa Barbara.
“Not to discredit any of those movies, but they were detours.”
Uncut Gems is the story of charismatic diamond dealer Howard Ratner (Sandler), a character inspired by a man who employed the Safdies’ father.
“I was very nervous. They were constantly telling me how much they loved Howard and how big of a hero Howard was,” Sandler explained.
Howard, who leads a relatively comfortable life, gets his hand on an exceptionally rare jewel—one that could change someone’s life.
But nothing happens as expected for a man convinced he can always end up getting out of any jam in which he finds himself.
Sandler’s Howard is a man in perpetual motion—a colorful businessman, a practicing Jew, an unfaithful husband and a gambler with a problem.
The 53-year-old actor is best known for comedies that are somewhat lacking in nuance, such as Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy.
But in Uncut Gems, he flies out of his comfort zone and even initially refused the role before finally taking it on.
“I was reading it, and I was going: this guy is kind of a bad guy, and he was a hero to these guys. I couldn’t figure it out. But we just jumped in together,” Sandler said.
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