CREDIT: A24

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Abel Tesfaye, Judd Hirsch, Mike Francesa

Director: Ben and Josh Safdie

Running Time: 134 Minutes

Rating: R for Shouted Overlapping Profanity, the Violence of High-Stakes Gambling, and a Few Sexy Times

Release Date: December 13, 2019 (Limited)

I know some people who don’t love sports but are able to appreciate athletics when it’s in a movie because you really get to see the emotions and stories behind the games. That has perhaps never been more viscerally true than it is in the climax of Uncut Gems, which hinges on a specific stat line in the deciding game in the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. There are millions of dollars at stake in high-profile events like these, and writing-directing brother Josh and Benny Safdie were astute enough to realize that they could craft a particularly gripping narrative out of one story behind those millions. To wit: New York City diamond district jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) has placed a bet on the performance of Boston’s star baller Kevin Garnett, and it is no exaggeration to say that it is probably the most significant bet he has ever placed in his life.

The thrill of Sandler working with auteurist directors is that they don’t ask him to change his persona. Rather, they push him to be the most fascinating version of himself. As is the case with Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love or Danny Meyerowitz in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Howard fits squarely within the classic Sandler mold. He’s an unapologetically shouty, emotionally sloppy man-child, but with a dash more (or rather, a hundred dashes more) of recklessness than usual. He’s got hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt all around town, particularly with his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian), who’s hired a couple of heavies to hound him. But he’s recently come into possession of an extremely valuable precious stone from Ethiopia that could be worth millions. His mixture of predicament and great fortune leads him to broker a potential deal with a precious metal-hungry Garnett, while also dealing with a malfunctioning door buzzer, getting locked while naked in his car trunk, and a wife (Idina Menzel) who can barely stand him. He does also have a much younger girlfriend (Julia Fox) who’s crazy about him, but not in a way that’s particularly healthy for either of them. Anyway, even with all that boiling in the stew, Howard actually has a few opportunities to clear his debt, but he just can’t help himself as he keeps doubling down and going for an even bigger score.

Uncut Gems is a natural companion piece with the Safdies’ last film, 2017’s Good Time, which starred Robert Pattinson and Ben Safdie as a couple of low-level bank-robbing brothers. Uncut Gems matches Good Time for claustrophobia and raises the stakes in terms of catastrophic decision-making, but it allows for the possibility of hope that a happy ending is somehow possible. A lot of that is thanks to Sandler, who when he is actually invested in a performance is so immensely likeable (and is still fairly likeable even when he’s being lazy). It’s not hard to root for Howard. That of course leads to the question, should we really be rooting for him? If all his high-risk decisions work out (and logic dictates that they certainly can), then he’ll never learn to live more reasonably. But at a certain point, with the whirlwind that his life causes everyone around him, I just want it to end. If it all goes wrong for Howard, it also goes wrong for so many people who don’t deserve it. There a few possibilities for how this can all end, all of which are guaranteed to leave you with a ton of adrenaline pumping.

Uncut Gems is Recommended If You Like: Good Time, the NBA playoffs, Colonoscopies set to synth music

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 African Jews