Uncut Gems (2019)
director: benny safdie, josh safdie | runtime: 135mins | crime, drama
Shady jewellery store owner Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) comes into the possession of a rare jewel found in Ethiopia. When he loans it out to Kevin Garnett, he must navigate the world of family, debts and hustling in order to retain it.
There is something so inexplicably unique about Uncut Gems, so weirdly frantic and unsettling in it’s pace but somehow devilishly entertaining at the same time. The Safdie Brothers make some of the boldest decision in their direction, never giving the film any room to take a breather, rather keep it’s foot on the gas until it has to be stopped. Even from the opening scenes in Howard’s shop, people are continually shouting over each other with Howard ready to either dash at the sight of an enemy or sell a big ticket item. It’s so overwhelming that it feels natural, creating atmosphere like you’ve never seen before, and continuously surprising you until you may need to check your pulse.
Maybe it isn’t full-throttle in a traditional Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) kind of way, but it never takes it’s foot off the gas regardless of it’s story or setting. This could get exhausting mind you, but the beauty of it is that it’s done for reason, it’s a reflection of the scheming showmanship of it’s lead character, always on and always ready to do something bold. This is something the film does so well, with Sandler’s performance and the unhinged direction complimenting each other to give you one hell of an experience. At only 2 hours and 15 minutes, Howard intercepts a priceless jewel that he lends to Kevin Garnett, he fights The Weeknd, makes countless bets in the face of debt, pawns, buys, steals to even a point where he’s swindling his own Father.
Then again a film that begins in an Ethiopian goldmine and transitions into a man’s colonoscopy has something to say from the get go. Despite these bold tricks though the film’s setting is integral to the atmosphere it’s trying to create. What city could you possibly have such a fast-pace and such a sleazy mindset – enter New York. The Safdie Brothers take no prisoners when showing the streets that Howard so confidently walks down, and even through all the lying and the dirt they find a certain magic to this world they have built around Howard. He’s at home, and as dysfunctional as it is, it’s one that is beaming with life, much like the character himself.
The myth has always stood that Adam Sandler hasn’t been good for a long time, in fact it was only in the presence of Paul Thomas Anderson that he managed to find such a strong performance all those years ago with Punch-Drunk Love (2002). But this time he’s proved once again that if you strip him of his Hollywood comedies and give him something real to play, he’s fantastic. It’s not just the charisma, through all of Howard’s schemes and compulsive lying you still find yourself routing for him, there sympathy had for a man just trying to reach his ultimate high. While his downfall is self-inflicted Sandler still manages to take us along with him at the Safdie’s pace, and through all the betting, cheating and terrible choices he still manages to be endearing. Sandler truly tapped into something redefining, and while you’ll be sure to see another Grown Ups-esque comedy coming in no time, it’s proof that he has more to say as an actor than people give him credit for.
Uncut Gems is essentially the cinematic equivalent of reading a novel with no full stops, but somehow it works completely. The film as a whole feels so complete in a condensed space, using every inch of it’s story to create a world while maintaining a speed that not even most modern action films can maintain. In it’s down moments the central character reflects, but they are fleeting, and once Howard gets his momentum you once again find yourself overwhelmed by the pace that this film can conjure. It’s a unique experience, one that you’re unlikely to see again, and with such faith in their leading star paying off, The Safdie Brothers have brought something unbelievably entertaining to the catalogue of A24.