Uncut Gems

I am an Adam Sandler apologist. This is one of my less popular film-related opinions. After all, the man is responsible for Click, Grown Ups and worst of all, Jack and Jill. These movies are indeed awful, but not because of Sandler’s acting.

When given well-written dramatic roles (think Punch-Drunk Love or The Meyerowtiz Stories) Sandler excels. Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems is no exception to this rule.

In the best performance of his career, Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a jeweler in New York City’s Diamond District who faces a broken marriage, a gambling addiction, a physical altercation with a well-known singer and more.
Howard is a complex man. He is outwardly charming yet internally insecure and Sandler’s nuanced acting captures the character perfectly. As we follow Howard through a series of questionable decisions, we feel his emotions with him, which means the film is a two-hour anxiety attack, but in a good way.

We watch helplessly as Howard makes bad decision after bad decision, facing increasingly dire consequences until the conclusion of the film. We know Howard isn’t a morally upstanding man, but for some reason, we still want to see him succeed. And for those reasons, we’re on the edge of our seats for the duration of the film. The film lives and dies with Howard: without an excellent performance from Sandler, the film wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is.
But a great film requires more than a great performance, and Uncut Gems is a great film. Thanks to cinematographer Darius Khondji, the film is as visually striking as it is stress-inducing.

Two shots, including one of the inside of a gem, resemble — and deserve the comparison to — the final shots of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And these shots are more than just visually stunning. They tell a story, suggesting that each individual has a universe within them.

These aren’t the film’s only excellent shots, however. Much of the rest of the film is shot in a claustrophobic, frenetic way that mirrors Howard’s downward spiral, and the Safdie brothers’ use of light and color add to the film’s visual appeal. Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie’s editing elevates this effect even further.

Finally, any discussion of Uncut Gems requires a discussion of Daniel Lopatin’s score. The eclectic, synth-heavy score — not former Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Garnett, newcomer Julia Fox or anyone else — is the film’s second-biggest star. In perfect sync with Howard’s emotions, the score seamlessly alternates between spiritual serenity and primal panic. It’s not merely an embellishment, but a major character without which the film would be incomplete. Lopatin’s score is more than just another part of the film — it’s fascinating to listen to on its own and it’s one of the best scores of the year.

If you’re expecting another Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison, you’ll be disappointed. If you expect something completely unlike the majority of Sandler’s other films, you’ll love every second of Uncut Gems. It’s weird. It’s overwhelming. It’s uncomfortable. It’s 135 minutes of stress. And it’s one of the best films of 2019.



Image Credit:  Mario Antonio Pena Zapateria via Wikipedia Commons