“Noir – a genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity“
Be warned: Unlike any other Adam Sandler film before it, Uncut Gems takes a deep, gut-wrenching dive into a web of jewels, cash, and danger. Far from the slapstick Happy Madison Production films he built his name upon, Sandler undoubtedly gives the best acting performance of his career in this gritty and intense character study.
Although, upon first glance of this film it’s not that obvious, one thing that appealed to me about the personality of Uncut Gems is its “film noir” characteristics.
“Film Noir” was a term for seedy crime films in the ’40s that was popularized among cinephiles and film students alike. Quintessential films of this genre typically involve some combination of the following:
- Daring but doomed protagonist (usually in over their head)
- Some type of heist/caper/money plot
- A “femme fatale” or dangerous lady with a gun
- Masterfully shot scenes contrasting shadows and light
Decades after those classic black-and-white crime films, another loose term began to circulate throughout film discussion highlighting modern films with film noir traits and themes.
This was “Neo Noir.”
Maybe you have seen them? Neo-Noir films have been very popular, such as The Matrix, Nightcrawler, Gone Baby Gone, and the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning masterpiece, No Country for Old Men.
Neo-noir films may not have looked exactly the same as true “Film Noir”, or followed the same rules, but the spirit and feel of the genre was very present.
Now that we understand the thematic aesthetic for our discussion, let’s focus on Benny and Josh Safdie’s 2019 neo-noir thriller, Uncut Gems.
All of the traditional main film noir characteristics are in play here, albeit in slightly altered or modern ways. Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a gambling jeweler that is in over his head with his debts. Although not in the traditional sense, Howard’s “femme fatale” is his mistress Julia, who is played wonderfully by Julia Fox. The Safdie brothers shot Uncut Gems in a style that’s in your face, stylish, fast-paced, and saturated in tones reminiscent of the late Tony Scott.
An Illuminated Performance
My favorite film of Sandler’s, The Wedding Singer, actually displayed a lot of his range (for a comedy). In all honesty, I think he gets a lot of flack from people unfairly because of his more lackluster set of films like Jack & Jill, Grown Ups, and Pixels. That is why Uncut Gems is such a refreshing surprise.
On top of the slick camerawork and taut suspense of the film is a bare-bones, honest performance by Sandler that is at least worthy of a nomination for any major acting award.
His trademark charisma audiences grew to love flows through Howard Ratner just as well as it did when he played ‘Happy Gilmore’ or ‘Billy Madison.’ The difference now is a more mature and wiser Sandler in full control of his emotions.
He’s obnoxiously loud and wild when he needs to be, but he bares his soul with adept skill in the quieter scenes. Simply put, the film wouldn’t work if his performance doesn’t. Adam Sandler passes with beautiful flying colors seen through the universe itself inside of a black opal rock.