THE STORY – Set in the diamond district of New York City, Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner and dealer to the rich and famous, must find a way to pay his debts when his merchandise is taken from one of his top sellers and girlfriend.
THE CAST – Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian, The Weeknd & Adam Abad
THE TEAM – Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie (Directors/Writers) & Ronald Bronstein (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 130 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
The Safdie Brothers are back on the streets of New York, tackling the messy behaviors of our lives with flawed characters who are always on the cusp of redemption but can never seem to find it. “Uncut Gems” might be their most ambitious film yet as it seeks to beat the senses, disorientate and antagonize with unlikable characters doing unlikeable things in the most frustrating manner possible. They provide us with one of their best-crafted characters yet in Howard Ratner. And Adam Sandler undoubtedly gives us his best performance yet with this specific character. So, why am I not more enthusiastic about this movie?
Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a charismatic Jewish New York City jeweler with a gambling problem. Every time he scores big, instead of paying his debts, he keeps making more bets. He loves to bet on his friend Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics especially. When Howard obtains a rare rock full of colorful diamonds, he decides to loan it to Kevin for a short period of time, while he pawns the basketball star’s Hall of Fame ring. As the money moves around, and Howard’s debts start to pile up, even with members of his own family, his life begins to spiral out of control, leading to more high-risk bets, thus creating a cycle that never ends.
“Uncut Gems” has a lot going for it. The Safdie Brothers are able to once again, like their previous films “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time,” bring kinetic energy to their style of filmmaking that creates an immersive experience of sound, editing, music, and cinematography. Darius Khondji’s gritty look at modern-day New York City is brimming with life, color, and a dizzying haze. The score by Daniel Lopatin is a major standout, from the opening credits all the way until the end of the final credits. Like his previous work on “Good Time,” it feels alive and has its own pulse, as it washes over the film, giving it almost a dream-like quality through its blasting synths. The sound work is also highly impressive as, the film juggles multiple speaking parts (often yelling over each other), with the score and other elements thrown in. It’s continuously aggressive and it never lets up through the film’s two-hour runtime.
And that’s both, part of the experience of watching “Uncut Gems” and also why it didn’t work for me. As much as I appreciate what Adam Sandler is doing here, balancing desperation with frustration, he’s not my issue with the movie. My problems with “Uncut Gems” stem from the onslaught of noise, dialogue and score provided by the Safdie Brothers. I understand the intention behind it too. It’s meant to be disorientating and it increasingly puts us in the headspace of Howard as his life continues to spiral out of control due to his uncontrollable gambling behavior and poor decision-making. It’s a technique I admire more than I actually enjoyed.
There is a degree of realism that courses its way through “Uncut Gems,” including the realistic use of stars Kevin Garnett and The Weekend playing themselves. The dialogue never feels written for an actual movie and instead feels naturalistic in a way that gives the film an uneasy feeling that we’re watching we’re not supposed to be watching. It’s confrontation at the highest level and if we were privy to it, we’d want to run away from it as quickly as possible. However, in “Uncut Gems” we are forced to endure it, as it pummels us into submission, creating a unique cinematic experience…just not an enjoyable one.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Adam Sandler turns in his best performance yet. The Safdie Brothers further establish their command over independent filmmaking with style.