Film festival favorites Benny and Josh Safdie place Sandler inside a cacophony of annoyance in this dramedy. Uncut Gems is an assault of the senses: It has a loathsome central character, unsteady camera work, a thunderstorm of profanity/yelling inside a world of antagonistic relationships, and an out-of-place early-'80s synthesizer score. The elements work against each other. The whole movie feels almost like an exercise in seeing how much an audience can tolerate, including how it plays into negative stereotypes. Favors were surely called in to cast key roles, and while former NBA superstar Kevin Garnett comes off just fine playing himself, you have to wonder why The Weeknd would accept a role that shows him snorting coke, pressuring a woman into sex, and getting beaten up by a 48-year-old schlub.
Sandler isn't new to playing obnoxious or even objectionable, but he does stretch his chops here, plunking down the kind of "ugly cry" rarely seen by men on the big screen. That aside, his character's behavior is such a horror show that he misses the mark. No empathy can be felt for this pathological gambler. Ratner is supposed to be charismatic -- a word easily used for Sandler -- but it's impossible to understand why anyone would trust him, work for him, do business with him, or be his friend. The Safdie brothers add a clever touch, working in a gradual awareness that the film's protagonist is also its antagonist. First, it becomes obvious that Ratner is his own worst enemy. But slowly we realize that Ratner's enemies are actually, in some ways, his victims. It just feels like viewers become victims as well, robbed of more than two hours of their life. Ratner's wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel), might as well be speaking for this viewer when she tells her soon-to-be-ex, "I hate being with you. I hate looking at you. I never want to look at you again." Amen.