In cahoots with very bad guys, New York jewelry salesman and compulsive gambling addict Howard Ratner thinks he’s found a way out; an opal from an Ethiopian diamond mine that could potentially get him over 1 million USD.
The catch? A famous basketball player has roped him into lending it out, and getting it back won’t be as easy as he thinks.
1. Article Summary
Uncut Gems has been called the most thrilling, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing film of the year for a reason. Co-written and directed by the Safdie brothers and their regular collaborator Ronald Bronstein, Uncut Gems succeeds in bringing the viewers to Howard’s nutty, cacophonous world.
As Howard pinballs from one bad decision to the next, all you can do is watch as his personal and professional lives disintegrate. In the end, you find yourself rooting for him not to win, but just to survive.
2. Is it worth watching?
After non-classics like Murder Mystery and The Ridiculous 6 on Netflix, his performance in Uncut Gems proves to be a major reason for why it works. The film features, without a doubt, the greatest performance Adam Sandler has given throughout his career.
When the escalation of tension is almost unbearably relentless, Sandler’s performance changes from being initially cartoonish to being a rapacious lowlife with big dreams.
The film has also been dubbed one of the most mesmerizing thrillers of all time. Uncut Gems follows a slick and propulsive formula in its ability to wring maximum tension from its milieu. That is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Set in 2012, Uncut Gems literally starts with its boots on the ground. The film follows the story of Howard “Howie Bling” Ratner (Adam Sandler), an eccentric jeweler in New York’s Diamond District.
As he blunders through a series of ill-conceived bets and ferocious loan sharks, he achieves what he’s always wanted: his big break. With it in the form of a rare and illegal opal from Ethiopia, he hopes to settle his outstanding gambling debts.
However, a myriad of things goes wrong. Basketballer Kevin Garnett (who plays himself) convinces Ratner to lend him the opal to improve his performance on the court. The large debt he owes his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosnian) gets heavier with interest and death threats. For the cherry on top, there’s Ratner’s crippling marriage with Dinah (Idina Menzel) and his straying affair with Julia (Julia Fox).
As the film unwinds, it dispels a voluptuously unsettling series of events onto the audience that almost makes you sigh when it’s over.
II. Music and visuals
Electronic musician Daniel Lopatin composed the original soundtrack for Uncut Gems. The film’s remarkable score from Oneohtrix Point Never solidifies the sci-fi vision of directors Josh and Benny Safdie. Renown for his acclaimed score in 2017’s Good Time, he has regularly worked with the sibling directors.
Lopatin’s score for Uncut Gems establishes once and for all that the Safdies have a coherent sonic vision for their work that places it closer to science fiction than crime cinema.
In its own way, this gets to the heart of cyberpunk better than the many Blade Runner and Black Mirror clones; crime stories as a series of intangible transactions that don’t just include money and goods but also an often ignored social and cultural cache.
Uncut Gems implements an extremely hybrid cast of high-brow performers and fresh faces for its immersive experience.
Joining Sandler are fellow actors Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel and Judd Hirsch, as well as non-film-related celebrities like NBA star Kevin Garnett, Canadian singer The Weeknd, sports broadcaster Mike Francesca and model Paloma Elsesser.
The Safdies succeed in using shots of New York City in ways that haven’t been seen since films in the ’70s. Veteran cinematographer Darius Khondji brings out the sickly gleam of the areas, the green-fuzz of the interior lighting, the glamour of some of the interiors juxtaposed with the sleaze of the others.
3. Final thoughts
For such a thrilling film, it is interesting to note that there is little violence in it. The character of Howard Ratner is one of a kind of depth that doesn’t at first meet the eye. He’s quite alone for someone who surrounds his life with chaos and spends it relying heavily on others.
It is, inevitably, the ultimate parable of the modern man captured in his natural habitat. In a capitalist world where individuals are squeezed of their humanity for the sake of production, the story shows decency being beaten out of people, pushing them to insane limits just to be able to feel something.
The power and relevance of this film, for capturing it so magnificently, will be remembered in the years to come.