Uncut Gems is a 2019 American crime thriller film directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein. The film stars Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a Jewish-American jeweler and gambling addict in New York City's Diamond District, who must retrieve an expensive gem he purchased to pay off his debts. The film also stars Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, and Eric Bogosian. Filming took place from September to November 2018. The original score was composed by Daniel Lopatin.
Uncut Gems had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019. It entered into a limited release in the United States on December 13, 2019, before a wide release on December 25, by A24. The film received critical acclaim, particularly for Sandler's performance, which several critics described as the best of his career. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2019, with Sandler also winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead. It became A24's highest-grossing film domestically, with $50 million made.
In 2010, Ethiopian Jewish miners retrieve a rare black opal from the Welo mine in Ethiopia. In 2012, gambling addict Howard Ratner runs KMH, a jewelry store in New York City's Diamond District. Howard struggles to pay off his gambling debts, which include $100,000 he owes to Arno, his loan shark brother-in-law. His domestic life is split between his wife Dinah, who has agreed to divorce after Passover, and his girlfriend Julia, a KMH employee.
Howard's business associate Demany brings basketball star Kevin Garnett to KMH. While he is there, the opal, which Howard had smuggled from Africa, arrives. Garnett becomes obsessed with the opal, insisting on holding onto it for good luck at his game that night. Howard reluctantly agrees, accepting Garnett's 2008 NBA Championship ring as collateral.
After Garnett leaves, Howard pawns the ring and places a six-way parlay on Garnett playing extraordinarily well in that night's game, which he does. The next day, Demany says that Garnett still has the opal, angering Howard. Howard is ambushed at his daughter's school play by Arno and his goons, Phil and Nico. Howard's winning bet should have won him $600,000, but Arno reveals that he placed a stop on Howard's bet, since it was made with money Howard owed to him. Phil and Nico strip Howard naked and lock him in the trunk of his car, forcing him to call Dinah for help.
Howard meets Demany at a nightclub party hosted by R&B singer the Weeknd to retrieve the opal, but learns that Garnett still has it. Howard discovers Julia snorting cocaine in a bathroom with the Weeknd and, believing they were having sex, gets into a fight with him. Feeling betrayed, Howard confronts Julia and demands that she move out of his apartment.
Garnett returns the opal before an auction and offers to purchase it for $175,000, but Howard refuses, since he believes that it is worth much more. Garnett demands his ring back, but Howard lies and says it's at his house. After Garnett leaves in dismay, Howard berates Demany for allowing Garnett to hold onto the opal for so long. Incensed, Demany quits and trashes Howard's office. After an awkward Passover dinner, Dinah rejects Howard's plea to give their marriage another chance.
Just before the auction starts, Howard discovers the opal has in fact been appraised for significantly less than his initial estimate of $1 million. He convinces his father-in-law Gooey to bid on the gem to drive up the price, but the plan backfires when Garnett fails to top Gooey's final bid. A furious Gooey gives Howard the opal before Arno, Phil, and Nico assault Howard outside the auction house. Howard returns to KMH, bloody and in tears. Julia comforts him and they reconcile.
Howard learns that Garnett is still willing to purchase the opal. Garnett goes to KMH to pay, giving Howard enough money to repay his debt to Arno. Arno, Phil, and Nico arrive at KMH just before Garnett leaves, but before they enter his office, Howard tells Julia to bet the cash on a three-way parlay on Garnett having a strong performance. Julia escapes as the thugs find Howard in his office and threaten him, while Julia travels by helicopter to the Mohegan Sun casino to place the bet for him. Arno tells Howard to call Julia and cancel the bet, but he refuses. Furious, the three attempt to pursue her, but Howard locks them in between the store's security doors. Howard watches the game on television while Arno, Phil, and Nico remain trapped.
Garnett's Boston Celtics win the game, winning Howard $1.2 million. An ecstatic Howard frees Arno, Phil, and Nico, but the enraged Phil shoots Howard in the face. Arno protests and tries to escape, but Phil shoots him dead too. Julia leaves the casino with Howard's winnings as Phil and Nico loot the store.
John Amos, Ca$h Out, and Trinidad James appear as themselves, with Amos appearing as Howard's neighbor and the others as acquaintances of Demany. Natasha Lyonne and Tilda Swinton have voice appearances as a Celtics staff member and an auction house manager, respectively. Pom Klementieff has a cameo as Lexis, a friend of Julia.
Josh and Benny Safdie conceived the film in 2009, and approached Adam Sandler to star; however, Sandler's manager rejected the film's script before Sandler got a chance to read it. In May 2016, it was announced that the Safdies would direct the film from a screenplay they wrote alongside Ronald Bronstein. The film's executive producers were Emma Tillinger Koskoff and Martin Scorsese, and it was produced by Elara Pictures and RT Features. In May 2017, Jonah Hill joined the cast, with Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Sebastian Bear-McClard joining as producers and A24 distributing.
In April 2018, Sandler replaced Hill. In August 2018, Eric Bogosian and Judd Hirsch joined the cast. In September 2018, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield and Idina Menzel joined, with Netflix acquiring international distribution rights. Kobe Bryant, Amar'e Stoudemire and Joel Embiid were also considered for Garnett's role. In October 2018, it was revealed that The Weeknd, Trinidad James and Pom Klementieff had joined the cast. Klementieff's scenes, apart from a brief cameo during the film's opening credits, were cut from the final edit. Principal photography began on September 25, 2018, in New York City, and concluded on November 15, 2018. The film was shot by Darius Khondji on 35 mm film, using long zoom lenses.
Daniel Lopatin composed the original soundtrack. He also recorded several songs with the Weeknd for the film, which went unused; however, he has production credits on the Weeknd's most recent album, After Hours. The score was released on December 13, 2019, on CD and vinyl and digital streaming services.
Josh and Benny Safdie's Jewish upbringing was essential to their crafting of the film. The story was heavily influenced by their father's time working in the Diamond District as a salesman. When creating the character of Howard, Josh and Benny Safdie said they were heavily influenced by Jewish humor and actors from the 20th century, wanting Howard to encompass Jewish stereotypes proudly and treat them as a "superpower." The Jewish concept of "learning through suffering" would be important for the character of Howard throughout the film.
The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2019. It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2019. It was released in limited theaters in the United States on December 13, 2019, and had a nationwide release on December 25, 2019. It was released internationally on Netflix on January 31, 2020, and began streaming in the United States on May 25, 2020.
In its limited opening weekend, the film made $537,242 from five theaters for a per-venue average of $107,448, the highest ever for A24 and the second-best total of 2019. It then made $241,431 in its second weekend. The film made $5.9 million on the first day of wide release (including $1.1 million from previews on Christmas Eve), the highest single-day gross in A24's history. It went on to make a total of $18.5 million over the five days ($9.6 million in the weekend), finishing sixth at the box office. In its second weekend of wide release, the film made $7.5 million, finishing eighth.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 91% based on 340 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "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." Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 91 out of 100, based on 56 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore during the film's limited release gave it an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale; upon going wide, it earned a "C+" score, as well as an average 2 out of 5 stars on PostTrak.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls the film "a cinema of pure energy and grungy voltage, and the Safdies make it look very easy. This will be the year’s most exciting film." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times: "Directed with relentless tension and diamond-hard intelligence by Josh and Benny Safdie (who earlier this month won directing honors from the New York Film Critics Circle), Uncut Gems is a thriller and a character study, a tragedy and a blast." Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a grade of A, calling it "a riveting high-wire act, pairing cosmic visuals with the gritty energy of a dark psychological thriller and sudden bursts of frantic comedy". Jake Cole of Slant Magazine gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing, "As in Good Time, Uncut Gems finds the Safdies working in a genre rooted in the grimy, character-oriented crime films of the '70s." Radheyan Simonpillai of Now commented that "there's so much propulsive, forward momentum even when the characters never get anywhere." Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Many will agree that this is Sandler's best performance, and the Safdies will finally move from the fringes of the commercial film scene to somewhere closer to the center."
In her round-up of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Wendy Ide of The Guardian ranked Uncut Gems as one of the best films of the year, calling it "Audacious, thrilling and exhausting" and Sandler's "remarkable performance" as one of the best performances of the year, and praising the cinematography. Kevin Garnett's performance was also praised, with Brady Langmann of Esquire calling it the year's best breakout performance, and Alan Siegel writing on The Ringer that it was "one of the best acting performances by an athlete ever."