Written by Max Sunnar
Uncut Gems was directed by Josh and Benny Safdie. It stars Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jeweller in New York’s diamond district who’s gambling addiction sends his life spiralling out of control. Under extreme pressure from debt collectors, Howard acquires an extremely rare black opal from Ethiopia which he hopes to sell to clear his financial situation. However, Howard struggles with his craving for greater financial riches.
The one word that perfectly describes this movie on first viewing is, claustrophobic. For almost the entire runtime, this film does not let you breathe for a single second. The best way to describe this is by holding several conversations with four different people at the same time. Although this sounds like a recipe for disaster, the script shines through as one of its best assets.
Uncut Gems’ sound mix must be greatly praised in this aspect. The way characters are constantly talking over each other, trying to get their point across, is brilliantly executed as we can still understand what is being said.
This is beautifully combined alongside Daniel Lopatin’s mystical synth-heavy score which truly intensifies the hectic nature of the film while also indescribably translating the calming nature of the opal which is so central to the film.
It is an astounding piece of filmmaking that overwhelms you with important details, which like Howard, become hard to juggle. As the viewer, we begin struggling as much as Howard to remember all the details. Although this would usually be considered as poor storytelling, the Safdie Brothers use this to let viewers inside the mind of Howard.
We have seen Sandler dabble in a few dramatic roles throughout his career including films such as Spanglish (2004), The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) and particularly his wonderful performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002).
This film may go down as the greatest performance of his long career. Howard is an extremely complex and self-destructive individual trying to balance his many troubling relationships, with his family, business and addictions. Howard has a lot going on.
Howard isn’t great with money, to begin with, so to throw his gambling addiction into the mix is to see him dig himself into a deeper hole.
Although Howard is delusional and an all-around terrible person, Sandler’s likeable nature and optimism in righting his wrongs make us feel incredibly sympathetic towards him with hope for him to succeed; despite all the bad things that he does.
This film is filled with several non-career actors including former Boston Celtics basketball player, Kevin Garnett. Although Garnett makes an acting debut in this film as himself, he shines in a particularly central role in the movie. He obsesses over the opal embedded stone, treating it as a good luck charm as he tries convincing Howard to sell it to him.
Julia Fox was equally impressive as Howard’s mistress. LaKeith Stanfield’s character Demany is the middleman of Howard’s jewellery business, bringing in new clients – including Kevin Garnett – and helping the business strive.
I have been a big fan of Stanfield’s rise to fame with projects such as Get Out (2017), Sorry to Bother You (2018) and Atlanta (2016-), he again continues to impress as one of Hollywood’s hot prospects.
This movie is unrelenting chaos that frustrates us in the best way possible, the performances are flawless and the complexity that comes from sprinkling details across the script makes it easily one of the best movies of the year. Although Sandler missed out on an Academy Award nod, his performance is up there with the best of the year. Uncut Gems champions in the Safdie Brothers wonderfully refreshing filmmaking style that we have seen with their 2017 triumph Good Time. We can only wait in anticipation for what these brilliant young filmmakers come up with next.