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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Uncut Gems (2019)

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Original Review Date: 15 February 2020

The Safdie Brothers are among the freshest, most creative and boldest young filmmakers currently setting our screens (and nerves) on fire. Good Time (2017), despite already being their fourth feature length film as a duo, was their breakthrough effort that truly introduced us to this powerhouse duo led by a ferocious performance from Robert Pattinson. Their follow-up? Uncut Gems (2019), and boy oh boy are you in for a ride.

Uncut Gems follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a Jewish jeweler with a gambling addiction, caught in a series of high-stakes bets that has him having to

maneuver his way around his business, family, an extramarital affair and seedy loan sharks in order for him to achieve his biggest jackpot yet.

We cannot carry on without talking about Adam Sandler’s truly unbelievable performance as Howard, whose very being keeps us fuming at his frustrating decisions, questionable morals and pure sleeze. We don’t like Howard, hell, I don’t want to even root for him, but the completely blistering and nerve shredding pace with which the Safdies subject us to, we don’t have any other choice but to NEED Howard to succeed. Just so we can at least pull ourselves out from the gutter and take a much needed breath. His infuriating decision-making in needing to get the next big win is a terrifying insight into a gambling addict who lives and thrives for that thrill.

The Safdies manage to show everyone who still doubt Sandler’s capabilities as an actor (Punch Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories is calling your name) with one of the finest performances of not only the year, but of the 21st century. Completely snubbed at this year’s Oscars, Sandler deserves all the overwhelming praise he has been receiving, and thankfully the Independent Spirit Awards (the best awards show) deservedly rewarded him with the best actor statue.

Sandler is also supported by an extraordinary cast of professionals and non-professionals. Idina Menzel is excellent as Howard’s wife who has a family to look after while also dealing with Howard’s endless mountain of problems, and Lakeith Stanfield shows once again that he is one of the most reliable actors working today serving as Howard’s go-to in bringing him clients. But the real standouts and one of The Safdies great strengths is their ability in working with non-actors. Kevin Garnett, a professional basketball player, is caught up in one of Howard’s new acquisitions. Garnet plays himself and having never acted, you would not think otherwise. He is one of the most unexpected shining lights of the cast, and thanks to the chemistry with Sandler and Stanfield, Garnet is in safe hands and performs with complete confidence.

Not only was the film snubbed of a lead actor Oscar nomination, but it was also denied nods for directing, editing and sound mixing. Uncut Gems has a relentless desire to keep you engaged, entertained and swimming in a sea of anxiety that keeps pulling you deeper and deeper into the quicksand below. Gems constantly moves from moment to moment with no intention of waiting for you to catch up, and once we are allowed to breath, we are quickly thrust back into it. The use of sound is vitally important as well in the thick cloud of anxious despair that persistently plagues us in Uncut Gems. Characters constantly talk over each other and sounds eventually merge into one as the walls continue to close in on not only Howard but unfortunately us as well. It sounds like torture, and in a way, it can be, but it makes the experience all the more thrilling and completely immersive. It constantly has us begging for a moment of silence, as well as yelling at Howard to reconsider his rash decisions.

The kinetic camera work proves to be a worthy partner to the sights and sounds of Uncut Gems. The story is always moving with each decision we are unfortunately subjected to by Howard. The Safdie Brothers’ direction allows for all these elements to blend into one cohesive document that has the spirit and feel of gritty and grimy New York-set films of the 1970s (The French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, etc.). This is a refreshing throwback to films of that era that is still unique to The Safdies and has rightfully allowed for other filmmakers to completely revel in their talent (Scorsese and PT Anderson just to name a few). As unpleasant as Uncut Gems may sound from what I have said, it’s an endurance test worth sweating through. It is most certainly a difficult ride to sit through due to the ever-tightening stranglehold it has around your throat, heart and bladder. But good lord I absolutely loved it and is unlike anything you will ever see from the Sand Man.

You can stream Uncut Gems over at Netflix

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