The Safdie Brothers’ new film is cinematic perfection
In a single word, Uncut Gems can be described as chaos. To call it that, however, would be a disservice to the insane and loud film meticulously crafted by Josh and Benny Safdie, the masterminds behind 2017’s indie hit, Good Time.
Uncut Gems follows New York jeweller, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), who’s in way over his head trying to pay back numerous large debts he owes to his loan shark, Arno (Eric Bogosian). In an attempt to rid himself of these debts, Ratner purchases an opal from Ethiopia that he believes to be worth over $1 million dollars, which he would then auction off to get his money’s worth.
The rest of the movie follows Ratner as he tries and fails on several occasions to get his money and pay off everyone he’s indebted to. The movie oozes nervous energy at every turn with Ratner making choices so incredibly stupid and egregious that you’ll probably be pulling your hair out strand by strand as you watch.
Sandler’s performance as Howard Ratner is electrifying; this is clearly his best in a film next to Punch-Drunk Love, and his snub in the “Best Actor” category for Uncut Gems at the Oscars is simply baffling. In his acting debut, ex-NBA star Kevin Garnett also plays a major role as himself in the Safdie brothers’ film. Though there was some uncertainty as to how good a basketball player might be in a serious movie, any doubts should be erased before going into the film.
Then there’s Julia Fox who plays Ratner’s mistress, Julia. This is also her film debut and will hopefully not be her last as she is the definitive show-stealer.
The Safdie brothers co-wrote the movie with Ronald Bronstein, and there’s no shortage of great one-liners and sharp conversations between all the cast members. Despite that, there’s an awful lot of yelling that sometimes makes the dialogue incomprehensible; yet, that chaos makes you understand why tensions are always so high.
Uncut Gems’ pace is brisk with very few slowdowns throughout the film; this accentuates what became of Ratner’s life. He’s got a family but is so shrouded by his inability to gamble well that he ends up losing them, since his estranged wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel) wants nothing to do with him anymore.
Uncut Gems takes place in 2012, and the Safdie brothers do an incredible job of making the movie actually feel like it’s 2012. The iPhone 4S with a pre-iOS 7 overhaul on it, The Weeknd singing “The Morning” off his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, and of course, the tense series between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals contribute to a perfect setting that encapsulates what 2012 felt like to a tee.
Having finally been released on Netflix, Uncut Gems is widely available to everyone, and given that the cost of entry of the movie is a simple Netflix subscription, there is no excuse for missing out on one of the most captivating, chaotic and entrancing movies of the past decade. Sandler infamously said that he’d make an awful movie on purpose if he wasn’t nominated for “Best Actor.” He didn’t and, much to my dismay, now we’re probably going to get another Sandy Wexler.