Uncut Gems (2019)

Breathless filmmaking by the Safdies that also sees Adam Sandler producing his best performance yet.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Josh & Benny Safdie
2019 | USA | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 135 mins | 2.39:1 | English & Hebrew
NC16 (passed clean) for pervasive strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use

Cast: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield
Plot: A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
International Sales: A24 (SG: Netflix)

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Tight
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

After being reasonably impressed by Good Time (2017) where the Safdies recalibrated Robert Pattinson into a serious actor, I was excited to hear that the talented brothers were working with Adam Sandler in a new crime film.  The result is Uncut Gems, which is one of the best films of 2019—to see it being shut out completely from the Oscars is a travesty. 

The Safdies deserve a Best Original Screenplay nomination for their wildly-plotted script that centers on Howard Ratner (Sandler in his best performance since 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love by P.T. Anderson), an out-of-sorts jeweller who is sucked into a personal high-stakes quest to score that perfect windfall from the multitude of perilous bets that he would place one after another. 

He shows little concern for his family and colleagues, and sometimes, even his clients who offer him money and assets. Uncut Gems is the kind of movie where people constantly f— one another up with mounting consequences. 

“That’s a million-dollar opal you’re holding. Straight from the Ethiopian Jewish tribe. I mean this is old-school, Middle-earth shit.”

The Safdies manage to align Sandler’s manic energy with their own trademark filmmaking style that breathlessly plays out through brilliant editing, jittery cinematography by the great Darius Khondji, and an electronic score from Daniel Lopatin (also from Good Time) that a certain ‘70s Vangelis would be proud of. 

At more than two hours long, Uncut Gems doesn’t feel bloated at all; in fact, the film just builds and builds to one of the most compelling final acts in recent memory.  It’s also a hilarious work that milks dark humour from the frustrating circumstances that befall the assortment of characters. 

Howard, of course, seems to enjoy the highs and lows, never fearing that things might go south very quickly.  A strong character study of an obsessive man who pushes everyone to their limits, Uncut Gems is the Safdies’ finest work yet. 

Grade: A-


(Note: Surely this track below was greatly inspired by Vangelis’ “Ballad” from his 1977 album, SPIRAL. To listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYL5jxnMFjA)


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