The Safdie Brothers crime-thriller Uncut Gems was a labour of love for over 10 years. Penning the original script back in 2009, the sibling filmmakers were unable to get the financial backing they needed to get the project off the ground, primarily because they were relatively unknown in the industry at the time. The film was subsequently put on ice, but after the critical success of Heaven Knows What (2014) and Good Time (2017), calls came thick and fast, and the duo secured the funding required to make the film.
Set in 2012, so I suppose you could call it a period piece if you so desired, the plot follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a New York City jeweller who purchases a rare black opal from a mine in Ethiopia with the intention of selling it for a hefty fortune. Howard is also a gambling addict, constantly on the lookout for that huge score that could turn his life around. He owes a significant debt to his loan shark brother-in-law and is on the verge of divorcing his wife.
It is an immaculately written script with a plethora of interlocking sub-plots involving characters such as Howard’s mistress Julia, friend and colleague Demany, pro-basketball player Kevin Garnett and even The Weeknd, who makes a brilliant cameo. The film does an excellent job of following Howard as he struggles to deal with each obstacle that gets thrown at him. The more and more Howard has to juggle the more stress-inducing the film becomes, to the point that you find yourself shifting uncomfortably in your seat. Howard isn’t particularly likeable, but you can’t help rooting for him nonetheless.
This sense of anxiety and discomfort is further emphasised in the films setting and sound design. Locations are often tight and compact, creating a sense of claustrophobia, overlapping dialogues as characters shout over one another, and loud, irritating sounds like door buzzers and telephone rings combine to create explosions of chaos.
Scenes often become overwhelming, which is of course intended, as the madness and hysteria, and the distress this induces on the audience, is mirrored in Howard’s increasing desperation throughout the film. As he frantically tries to bat away every problem, you’re with him for every swing.
Sandler puts in a career-best performance, executing the characters brash persona phenomenally. Sandler hasn’t necessarily stepped out of his comfort zone here, as Ratner’s loud, brazen and unashamedly arrogant personality isn’t a far cry from other Sandler characters. But in the moments that the film slows down and emotion takes over, you believe him for every second.
Uncut Gems is a frenzied and breathless masterclass in art and direction. It will suck you in, and by the time it has spit you back out again, you’ll feel like you’ve aged thirty years. It is a masterpiece that does not let up in pace and intrigue until the final credits have rolled.
Image Credit: IMDb