The Safdie brothers are at the end of a 10-year road. Uncut Gems, their new gambling thriller with A24 out this Christmas, is their fifth feature film, the second with major distribution, and sixth overall project (not including a handful of shorts). But it's the script they've been conceiving, tweaking, writing, shelving and rewriting for the better part of a decade now, the opus they've been building to. The grand summation of their careers thus far. Now that it's finally out, their labor is validated: Uncut Gems is one of the best movies—if not the best movie—of the year.

The film plucks the ever-talented albeit recently unmotivated Adam Sandler from the rolling hills of Netflix Mount Olmypus and casts him down into an uber-specific circle of hell: Manhattan's Diamond District. Sandler is Howard Ratner, a vintage New York hustler in the throes of a mid-life crisis and, worse, the losing side of a gambling addiction. Howard owes money all over New York, yes, and his hare-brained schemes to get out of the hole are what drive the tension and danger. But over the course of the film, you begin to sense that Howard will miraculously dig himself out of an early grave just to willingly bury himself alive all over again. He is what's becoming identifiable as a Safdie Scumbag, cancerous to all around him yet undeniably magnetic and endearing. Like Robert Pattinson before him, Sandler eagerly lets the brothers muddy his image with their specific coat of New York grime. But one of the reasons this movie feels bigger than Good Time is the return on emotional investment is doubled. Pattinson's Connie commanded attention, but he was always a piece of shit. Howard Ratner, on the other hand, is hard not to love. Of course, we've seen Sandler go dramatic before, but what he does here with Howie is a singular achievement. Through the sheer force of Sandler's charm, you're practically forced to root for him despite repeated proof that he doesn't deserve it.

The film combines Sandler's A-list movie stardom with a variety of talent like casting Kevin Garnett as himself in a significant supporting role, alongside buzzing It actors like Lakeith Stanfield, veterans like Eric Bogosian, and arresting first-timers like Julia Fox. The result is a particle accelerator of cinema verite energy, combining Robert Altman-style affectations with with gritty New York authenticity.

If Good Time was the critically acclaimed major-label debut, Gems is the mainstream-aspiring double-down aiming straight at Album of the Year. Whether it'll get that far is unclear, and also beside the point. What it does, unequivocally, is confirm the Safdies as auteurs who are here to stay, with a loyal and equally audacious creative group behind them, like Ronald Bronstein, their co-writer, co-editor, one-time co-director. Or Miyako Bellizi, the costume designer who helps their vision of NYC come to indelible life with one intricately conceived outfit after another.

Love it, hate it, or (somehow) fall in the middle, Uncut Gems is, objectively, the type of palpable, visceral movie-watching experience that doesn't come around often. A spectacular feat of storytelling deserves to have told the story of how it came to be. Over the course of this past fall, Complex wrangled the various actors and collaborators, as well as the Safdies themselves, to tell the story of how they created the sad, at times unpleasant, and at all times thrilling ballad of Howard Ratner. 

The Players
Josh and Benny Safdie: co-writers, co-directors, co-editor (Benny)
Adam Sandler: Howard Ratner
Ronald Bronstein: co-writer, co-editor
Lakeith Stanfield: Demany, Howard's shady business partner
Kevin Garnett: himself
Julia Fox: Julia, Howard's mistress and love interest
Idina Menzel: Dinah Ratner, Howard's estranged wife
Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never: composer
Miyako Bellizi: costume designer
Trinidad James: himself
Greg Yuna: himself

Additional reporting by Ariel LeBeau and Dan Barna.