Damn, the Safdie Brothers sure know how to create anxiety-ridden cinema. First introduced to the co-directors back in 2017 with their masterful crime drama Good Time, I was immediately hooked by the insane heartbeat of that film, which starred Robert Pattinson as a bank robber on the run after a failed attempt at stealing $65,000. The existential anxiety-driven film was helped by brilliant performances and a stunning soundtrack from Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never, who’s visceral, loud and overpowering music makes that film worth remembering.
SPOILERS AHEAD [Similarly to Good Time, The Safdie Brothers’ new film Uncut Gems is a film that is apologetically uncomfortable and claustrophobic throughout its 135 minute run time. Starring Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner as this chauvinistic, disrespectful and highly optimistic jeweler who finds new life after retrieving a rare and valuable black opal from an Ethiopian Jewish mine. Having the connections he does, Howard manages to bring legendary NBA player Kevin Garnett to the shop, showing him the collection he has as well as the black opal. Immediately drawn to the uncut gem, Kevin insists on keeping it for good luck. Hesitant, Howard lets him keep it for a few nights, and as a result Kevin Garnett’s performances in the next few NBA games were incredible. Seeing the opportunity to win big, Howard bets money on him and the Boston Celtics to perform well. The only problem was the that the money he used was from a massive unpaid loan from Arno, a loan shark and Howard’s brother-in-law, who along with his hit-men, try everything to intimidate him and threaten him if he doesn’t return it. The black opal went on auction, and in an attempt to drive up the price of the gem, Howard persuades his father-in-law Gooey to bid on it. This backfired as Kevin bowed out of the auction, further complicating things for Howard, who still owed money. In the middle of all this, Howard was having an affair with Julia, his employee and secret girlfriend. Kevin gets the black opal back, and on the night of one of Kevin’s games, Arno and his bodyguards and hit-men came to the store to threaten him again. Trapping them in between the two doors, they were forced to stay and watch as the Celtics and Kevin Garnett won Howard big, but with impatience rising and tempers flaring, Phil, Arno’s quick-tempered henchman got out of the enclosed space and shot Howard, proceeding to shoot Arno and burgling the entire shop.] SPOILERS END
As already stated, Uncut Gems is unapologetic in its portrayal of success as well as the anxiety-driven energy throughout the entire film. It feels claustrophobic, which again is aided by Oneohtrix Point Never’s stunning, electronic, raw and masterful score. The score boxed me into the film, as its loud and booming presence was what made the film such an exhilarating experience. The cinematography was incredible, and I noticed a difference in lighting between Howard’s work life and personal life. Whenever he’s at his office or doing work-related activities, the camera’s lighting was super bright and in your face, while whenever he was with family, there was a darker, more subdued tone to the lighting. This to me shows the dichotomy of his life and the difference in energy between his work and family environments. Adam Sandler’s performance is genuinely Oscar worthy (best since his 2002 performance with Punch-Drunk Love, maybe ever), as a man who is driven my money, women and excesses of his work. I kinda rooted for Howard, there was a charm and goofiness in his demeanor that made him somewhat likable, despite him being an awful husband and father to his kids. Lakeith Stanfield’s performance as Demany, Howard’s assistant, who recruits high-profile clients was incredible, as well as Julia, portrayed by Julia Fox. While the intensity was not as high as the unforgettable Good Time, this film still brought that feeling of “shit’s about to go down any second now, I can feel it.” And with the building energy and tension of the film, it became unbearable to watch at times, despite it being so riveting.
Uncut Gems is an exhilarating, roller coaster of a film, brilliantly portraying the effects of claustrophobia, constant anxiety and unfiltered madness on screen. It’s a true gem of a film, and I cannot wait to watch it again.
Watch the trailer to Uncut Gems below. It’s out in cinemas across the UK, and will find itself on Netflix on the 31st January. Distributed by A24.