‘Uncut Gems’ reviews: Adam Sandler is ‘as good as it gets’ in ‘frenetic,’ ‘excruciating,’ ‘exhilarating’ drama

Who’d have thought that Adam Sandler would be one of 2019’s biggest critical darlings? Well, that’s not exactly a new occurrence. In-between the broad comedies he’s best known for, he has set foot in the art house a few times already, notably with “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) and “The Meyerowitz Stories” (2017). Now he stars in “Uncut Gems,” which opened on December 13 — Friday the 13th, no less, which is fitting since he plays the unluckiest man in the world, a gambling addict digging himself deeper and deeper into debt.

As of this writing the film has a MetaCritic score of 89 based on 30 reviews counted so far, 28 positive and only 2 somewhat mixed, but none classified as outright negative. That makes it one of the top 10 highest rated films of the year on the review aggregator. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, which classifies reviews simply as pass or fail, as opposed to MC’s sliding scale from 0-100, the film is rated 93% fresh based on 110 reviews, only 8 of which are negative. RT summarizes those reviews with its critics’ consensus: “‘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.”

Directors Josh Safdie and Ben Safdie are being praised for this “jangling panic attack of a movie,” which is “frenetic, compulsively watchable, exhausting and exhilarating” in its portrayal of a gambler’s constant brinkmanship. Sandler, meanwhile is “as good as it gets” when he’s “given good material,” and he “can be one of the finest actors currently working.” He “deserves all the accolades he’s getting,” and he surely “figures as an awards contender,” though the film perhaps “hammers home the same point” over and over again about his ne’er-do-well character.

Indeed, the film has been an awards contender this season, earning Best Picture and Best Actor nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and Gotham Awards, and the Safdies won Best Director from the New York Film Critics Circle over east coast darling Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”). Will it score at the Oscars? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow movie fans here in our forums.

Sheila O’Malley (RogerEbert.com): “You hear people expressing surprise when Sandler gives a good performance. There should be no surprise. When he’s given good material, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Punch Drunk Love,’ or Noah Baumbach’s ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ (to name just a few), he’s as good as it gets … ‘Uncut Gems’ shows this electrified-fence feedback loop like no other film in recent memory. It’s excruciating and exhilarating.”

Wendy Ide (Screen Daily): “The latest from the Safdie brothers is a cracking follow up to ‘Good Time’: a jangling panic attack of a movie and a timely reminder that, when he puts his mind to it, Adam Sandler can be one of the finest actors currently working. A December 13th US release by A24 should ensure that Sandler figures as an awards contender, for a performance which transcends even that of ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ for jittery intensity.”

Jocelyn Noveck (Associated Press): “A frenetic, compulsively watchable, exhausting and exhilarating collaboration with Josh and Benny Safdie … There’s great work here by celebrated cinematographer Darius Khondji, whose camera never seems to stop moving for more than a split second … As for Sandler, he deserves the accolades he’s getting, again proving that with the right material, he has an uncanny ability to reach deep within us, despite our deep, DEEP annoyance.”

Dana Stevens (Slate): “There’s something to admire in the pedal-to-the-metal commitment of their project, and certainly ‘Uncut Gems’ is the product of an uncompromising vision. But I found the result to be claustrophobic and, finally, dull, with scene after scene that hammers home the same point we understood from the very beginning: that Howard is a lost soul, fated to run both his business and personal life into the ground.”

Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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