On the morning of Jan. 13, the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were disappointing yet again. The nominations of Antonio Banderas and Cynthia Erivo prevented “#OscarsSoWhite” from trending online again: This movement began in 2015 when there were zero people of color nominated in all four acting categories. The Oscars have nominated quality performances throughout the years, but there seems to be a lack of risk taken by the Academy.
One way that could have proved the Academy’s willingness to nominate exciting performances, rather than predictable ones, would have been Adam Sandler for his latest leading role.
“Uncut Gems” follows a jeweler from New York City named Howard Ratner, played by Sandler. Owning a prestigious jewelry showroom in the diamond district may be enough for some people, but Ratner is never satisfied. He is constantly searching for his next great score, which in this case involves a very rare Ethiopian black opal.
The gem could either make or break Howard Ratner.
Directors Josh and Benny Safdie are not interested in keeping the audience comfortable. Their method of recording audio may be completely different from what modern audiences are used to seeing in the theater. There is a tense sequence in a van where Ratner is coming face to face with men who have come to collect money from him. Both of them are fighting for control in the conversation, and the Safdie Brothers transfer this tension into how the dialogue is mixed. Everybody is speaking at the same level which makes it more difficult to focus on one voice, and that becomes very overwhelming. This intensity translates into some empathy between the audience and Ratner.
This gritty approach to dialogue is contrasted with the otherworldly score. Composer Daniel Lopatin uses electronic synths on “The Ballad of Howie Bling” that wrap around your head in a comforting way, like how it feels to stargaze. The percussive ticks in “Windows” echo around inside your head to remind you of the ticking clock and there is only so much time left in the story.
Despite all the exciting auditory stimulants, you are never able to take your eyes off of Adam Sandler. His goatee, rimless glasses and diamond earrings are scummy accessories that make the character feel grotesque. If you have grown up watching Sandler’s family-friendly comedies and come in expecting a “Jack and Jill” or “Click,” you may be outright disgusted with this person.
In his previous comedies, he was never addicted to gambling, cheating on his wife, or getting slapped around by debt collectors. Although, the insanity that one sees in Howard Ratner may make sense for Sandler. The last time he was able to flex this manic side to his performances was in 2002’s “Punch Drunk Love.”
All of these traits may be labeled as unlikeable, but that does not mean you cannot engage with the character. In an interview with Dazed Digital, Benny Safdie said, “The movie works because when Howard makes a wrong decision, it’s believable. There’s an element of understanding the flawed beauty…”
That is what “Uncut Gems” really boils down to: believability. With the constant stream of profanity, the film has the seventh most uses of the f-word in a film. It may be abrasive, but it is necessary. While hearing that same word over and over, there is still unpredictability to the characters.
Whenever somebody says they hated “Uncut Gems,” I am excited to discuss it with them. I would prefer to debate the quality of Adam Sandler’s performance than to quietly agree with someone that Jonathan Pryce in “The Two Popes” was only good.