Written by Ronald Bronstein, & Josh and Benny Safdie, and directed by The Safdie Brothers, “Uncut Gems” is the ultimate anxiety inducing film. The film seems designed to put viewers on edge, to drag them into the world of New York City Jewelers and more specifically into the realm of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler). Howard’s a man of conflict and obsession. As a New York City Jewel salesman that makes every ill-conceived, high risk, and unwise choice possible with his life, Howard is a man whose entire existence is at the boiling point. Howard’s relationship with addiction, stress, and the next big score is incredibly dangerous. As soon as the film begins we’re introduced to Howard putting the funding from several loans and gambling rackets immediately into even more high risk bets on the NBA. Which is where Kevin Garnett comes in. The Boston Celtics star athlete is brought in from one of Howard’s many lures he’s thrown out into the abyss and right when Howard receives an extremely rare opal from Ethiopia his pure passion for the rock explodes and he decides to show Garnett. Unfortunately for Howard, Garnett immediately has a sort of vision or soul bond with the rare rock and wants to buy it from Howard. The thing is, Howard’s already several steps into another financial scam to sell the opal at an auction for an incredibly inflated price. His admiration for the basketball player outshines his reasoning and he allows Garnett to “borrow” the Opal for his championship game. This is but one of many, MANY, poor decisions that Howard makes over the course of several days.
I’ll leave the details about the plot points for those of you interested enough to check this one out, it’s definitely a film I recommend if you’re okay with a near constant assault on your nerve endings, but it was an exhilarating and unique movie-going experience. The specifics aren’t exactly the point of the film anyways, at least as I view it. It’s more about the onslaught of noise, the squirming in your seat when Howard does the exact opposite thing that any sane person would do, but Sandler’s performance keeps you entrenched in the fury and downward spiral of Howard’s actions. Dressed in his best Lando Calrissian attire, Howard is always on the move, always hustling whether he’s on the streets, walking through hallways, lobbies, he never stops talking and never stops moving to the next step in his countless plans already in motion. The score really stood out to me, it’s a cacophony of juxtaposing heavy synth sounds not unlike that of “Blade Runner”‘s score mixed with Saxophone solos and an eight-person choir. The mix of an incredibly fast-paced and unsettling narrative with the slow and almost cosmic transcendence of the score was eerie and a brilliant choice in my opinion. There’s also the dialogue. It’s mixed and directed to be more realistic. Everybody talks over each other and no one stops to listen to each other until their profits are endangered. It’s a bit gross, but refreshing, it reflects the choice to showcase New York like the sleazy and hustling place that it is, seemingly a throwback to the 1970’s filmmaking done in New York.
“Uncut Gems” is almost more of an assault on your senses than a narrative based film. The experiential flurry that is this film is recommended, but with a warning to those weak of heart. This is a film wherein a flawed, but somehow endearing (thanks to Sandler’s performance), man schemes, gambles, and risks everything in his life. It’s a cycle of mutual grime, but it’s an interesting way to start the year, and the decade. Happy New Year people!
Final Score: 1 Uncut Gem
*For fun, check out this “Actors on Actors” discussion Variety put together between Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler who both chat each other up on their recent performances:
*Also, here’s an NPR article on the score of the film, definitely worth a read: