The Biggest take away from Uncut Gems, the latest film from Brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie (Good Time), except for an unnaturally quick heartbeat and and enough adrenaline to run a half marathon, is the feeling that you’ve seen a once in a lifetime performance… from Adam Sandler. That’s right, the man behind both Jack and Jill puts in such an incredible performance in this film, the best of his career and arguably the best of this year, that he completely redefines his image. He’s a force to be reckoned with in this movie, and that in itself should be enough to purchase a ticket right away.
Sandler is Howard Ratner, a jewellery store owner in the Diamond district of New York City. Crippled with a dangerous gambling addiction, and saddled with debts to numerous unfriendly clients, chaos ensues when a priceless black Opel arrives from the mines of Ethiopia, which Ratner is desperate to sell. The movie is a fever dream of stress and anxiety. The Safdies create an atmosphere of such screeching noise and uncontrollable energy that the audience cannot help but contort their body in terror, especially as the Stakes rise and Ratner makes more and more terrible decisions. It’s a directing and editing marvel. Characters talk over each other endlessly as the camera flashes between bustling New York streets to night clubs to the frenzied pawn markets. A droning synth score permeates the entirety of the film and clashes with all of the other sources of noise that the directors use to its full effect. The movie trades on visual and audible dissonance and the aim is clearly to spark discomfort. In the end, when I say it succeeds, it totally succeeds.
It’s a marvel of vision, so compelling in its style that the Safdies have seemingly invented their own genre with this film. Full credit must go to their directorial talent and their skill in shooting and pacing this movie, and they are clearly a talent to keep an eye on. A deeper layer to the film that might not be expected is the ability they have to engross you into the world and characters, despite the fact that an individual like Ratner is completely and utterly unlikeable. “You’re the most annoying person I’ve ever met”, snaps his wife (Idina Menzel), and she’s right. The movie is two hours of Ratner making the worst decisions he could possibly make over and over again. Yet part of the thrill is that you feel tied to him. It’s like a ride you can’t get off. Part of you doesn’t want to. It’s thrilling, vomit inducing and heartbreaking, the opposite of entertainment, but it can’t help but be completely entrancing.
Part of this is due to the remarkable cast. As has already been said, Sandler owns this movie and deserves every award going but the rest of the talent involved add to the stress and terror inflicted on the audience and Ratner. Newcomer Julia Fox especially shines as his mistress/employee, a hustler herself who proves instrumental in the final act. Lakeith Stanfield puts in a deliciously frustrating performance as a middle man for Ratner and his clients, who include the fabulous Kevin Garnett, in a performance that defies the typical chortle one makes when a non-acting celebrity makes an appearance in a film.
In all, Uncut Gems is one of the best movies of the last year. It’s thrilling, unnerving and riveting. It’s an experience only movies can provide and it reinvigorates the medium to such an extent that the Safdies (and Sandler!) are on their way to defining a new genre of filmmaking. A triumph.
9.5/10- A tour de force of style and performance, Uncut Gems features career best work from Adam Sandler and cements the Safdies as must-see filmmakers.