The Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny) made their mark in 2017 with the excellent Good Time. With a fantastic performance from Robert Pattinson, this taut thriller expertly demonstrated the brothers ability to create tension, and if your nerves weren’t shredded enough then, just you wait until you see their latest film!
Uncut Gems has already had plenty of buzz about it, even before the trailer was released, and it made an unexpected appearance on the London Film Festival billing as the always hotly anticipated surprise film. A surprise in more ways than one, this film caught a lot of people off-guard and has proved to be divisive so far, with plenty of walk-outs and a healthy mixture of 1 star and 5 star reviews. This is undoubtedly a film that is going to split people straight down the middle; from the opening moments it is abrasive and loud and it never relents right up to the very end.
Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a brash New York jeweler who is always on the lookout for the next big score, whether that be a rare gem or piece of jewellery, or a huge win following a risky sports bet. All of this collides when he comes into the possession of an extremely rare and beautiful opal, a trinket which catches the eye of the Boston Celtics basketball player, Kevin Garnett (who plays himself in the film).
Many have criticized the sound design in this film saying it is impossible for you to hear what the characters are saying, and whilst I don’t believe this is the fault of the sound design, it does take a little while to adjust to the frantic and frequently overlapping dialogue of this film. It is oddly reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, with Uncut Gems tying together the thrills of a high-stakes sports game with the anxiety-inducing life that Ratner has created for himself. This film is in-your-face, loud, and offensive, but it has a chaotic energy to it that is hard not to be captivated by.
Continuing to prove that in the hands of a good director he is capable of turning in an amazing performance, Sandler is truly exceptional in Uncut Gems. It isn’t quite a career best – I think that honour still goes to Punch Drunk Love – but it is still an incredible performance nonetheless. Often accused of being annoying and shouty himself, the character Sandler is playing is annoying and shouty, however the Safdie brothers seem to harness this perfectly with their frenetic and dynamic direction very much enhancing the manic energy Sandler brings to the performance. It is a character crafted to play to Sandler’s strengths which is something I never thought I would praise in a review!
Uncut Gems is rough, raw and uncompromising, and easily one of the most nerve-shredding experiences you will have in the cinema. It has been picked up by Netflix, but this is a film to see with a crowd if possible. The unsuspecting crowd at LFF might not have been ready for this one, and to be honest, I think that is the perfect way to experience this film. Despite being filled with completely unlikable characters, this cautionary tale of greed and ambition is astonishingly well executed and will cause your heart rate to skyrocket. Bold and brash filmmaking, Uncut Gems isn’t going to be for everyone, but it is certainly an experience.
Directed by: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Written by: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein
Cast: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, The Weeknd, Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield