Uncut Gems is the fourth feature film from directing duo Josh and Benny Safdie, two directors that were relatively unknown until a couple of years ago when their indie thriller Good Time surprised critics and audiences, in turn, solidifying the two brothers as promising upcoming talent to watch.
Perhaps, one of the most shocking things about Good Time was how it changed a lot of film fan’s opinions concerning Robert Pattinson from that one-dude-from-Twilight to that great-actor-in-Good Time. After Good Time, I was ready to see what would come next and after seeing Uncut Gems it is very clear that the Safdies have done it again. Uncut Gems is the tale of Howard Ratner, a diamond district veteran whose dangerous gambling addiction leads to him owing huge sums of money to many different personalities throughout the diamond district. Now he has to balance his family, his business and his pursuit of the next big score all while trying to pay back loan shark Arno, whose thugs are in relentless pursuit of him.
Our protagonist Howard Ratner, isn’t the best of people and, throughout the film, we see Howard lie, cheat, endanger those close to him and a whole host of other awful things. However, the Safdies and frequent collaborator Ronald Bronstein manage to craft a morally decrepit character who you can’t help to root for. While Howard isn’t the greatest of humans, the writers manage to fill him with charisma and personality, and, I have to say, the Safdies have cast the perfect man for the job - a pop culture icon full of charisma and personality but one that has been in some truly awful films of late. I am, of course, referring to none other than Adam Sandler an actor quite rightly maligned by some (including myself) for some god awful movies over the years.
However, Uncut Gems in my eyes is Adam Sandler’s redemption. He gives a truly amazing performance and completely immerses himself into the role. He manages to imbue a fairly awful person with a force of personality and charm that you can’t help but root for him. Every single scene with Sandler is an acting masterclass and the fact that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar is a crime. I hope, after Uncut Gems, Sandler continues down the serious drama route instead of going back to his awful comedies.
The film also features some great performances from established actors such as Idina Menzel who plays Dinah, Howard’s wife of many years who is sick and tired of Howard and his antics, Up and coming character actor Lakieth Stanfield who plays Howard’s assistant Demany, Eric Boogasin as loan shark, Arno, Judd Hirsch as Howard's father in law who goes by Gooey.
On top of this, the film features a whole host of great performances from first time/non-actors such as NBA hall of fame player Kevin Garnett who plays a fictionalised version of himself, long time friend of the Safdie brothers Julia Fox who plays Julia, Howard's secret girlfriend and last but not least Kieth William Richards who plays Phil one of Arno's enforcers. The use of non-actors is amazing as you honestly cannot tell the non-actors from the actors and this only helps to make the world our characters inhabit feel all the more real. The film takes place in spring of 2012 and the attention to detail such as Howard using an iPhone 4S with the old OS helps sell the period.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Uncut Gems is how anxiety-inducing and chaotic the viewing experience is. Throughout the film, I was constantly on edge and some scenes had my heart racing at a mile a minute due to the sheer anxiety-filled nature of the action. The reason why the scenes are so great and keep you so anxiety-ridden is because of the Safdies blend many film elements perfectly. The sound mixing throughout sequences is deliberately cacophonic, you can hear everything (literally everything) going on and conversations and talk overlaps, piling on top of one another creating a sense of auditory chaos. Pair this with claustrophobic and tight cinematography, filled with crash zooms and film grain, as well as the clever use of editing and music and you have a cinematic experience unlike many others. This gives the viewer an overwhelming feeling of sensory overload to the point where the audience has no time for a breather, as the credits rolled I let out a huge sigh like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
The film is scored by Daniel Lopatin and has become almost instantly one of my favourite scores of all time. It creates such an interesting atmosphere of chaos and confusion but at the same time perfectly reflecting the scenes in the film and how the characters are feeling. The cinematography by Darius Khondji is excellent and while it isn't as claustrophobic as the other Safdie films, it is still incredibly unique and refreshing in comparison to the majority of films coming out. The use of 35mm adds to the gritty nature of the film and makes everything feel a lot more authentic. The film is one of the rare examples of a perfectly edited film, the pacing is incredibly tight and the film doesn't overstay its welcome in the slightest and the way its build tension is superb, the final act has some perfect cross-cutting between multiple locations.
Overall, Uncut Gems is one of the best films of 2019, not only that, but it's one of my favourite films of all time. Every single moment in the film is perfectly orchestrated and this gave me one of the most interesting film experiences I've ever had. Everything from the acting performances to the music is pitch perfect and the fact that this was snubbed so badly in awards season is a damn crime. Make sure you see this amazing film on Netflix, as it’s a mad experience you won’t be sorry you’ve enjoyed.