17th Jan2020

‘Uncut Gems’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Adam Sandler, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik, LaKeith Stanfield, Pom Klementieff, Julia Fox, Paloma Elsesser, Mike Francesa, Maksud Agadjani, Andrea Linsky, Roman Persits | Written by Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein | Directed by Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie


A whirlwind of stress induced panic attacks that seem like they will never end. When they finally do end your knuckles will be white, your blood pressure will be high and the most stressful experience you’ll ever have in a cinema will be over.

The Safdie brothers first came onto the scene with Heaven Knows What and Good Times, and if they were the blueprints of what was to come then this is surely the accumulation of those movies turned up to 11. There’s a desperate nature that the Safdie brothers are becoming known for, and the desperation fuelled nature of Uncut Gems creates one of the most exciting and stressful experiences I’ve ever had in my life. This style is not for everyone, it will no doubt turn many people away, but I couldn’t help getting caught up in the chaotic world of Howard Ratner.

Adam Sandler plays Howard, in what is a definite career best performance as this New York jeweller, or as LaKeith Stanfield’s character says “just some crazy Jew”. Howard is down on his luck, a marriage that’s fallen apart, a girlfriend that’s on the crazy side, and he owes money, lots of money, to lots of people. Howard’s luck however is about to turn, in the belly of a fish comes his salvation. In Judaism the fish is a symbol of good fortune and that’s certainly what Howard believes lies within. He’s hoping the jewel that’s been smuggled inside the fish will solve all his problems, there’s just one problem, Howard is addicted to chaos. That chaos comes in many forms but mostly a series of high stakes gambles, we soon get the feeling that Howard’s whole life is one big gamble. It’s this addiction to chaos and gambling his life away that make Howard such a frustrating character to watch on screen, and I mean that as a compliment.

Sandler’s performance effortlessly captures the belief Howard has in his own nature, he never for a second feels like he will lose or that everything won’t work out, but as the audience we can see just how delusional Howard is. Sandler gives him a charm, a toxic kind of charm that infects everyone who he is surrounded with. This charm is so blinded by his own faith that even when his mean and menacing debt collectors threaten him he still tries to charm his way out with another con. It’s situations that we would be terrified in or can see the roof of these situations collapsing around us, yet Howard just tries to talk his way out, it’s this belief Sandler gives him that’s so powerful and works so brilliantly.

Next to Sandler’s performance stood the film’s incredible camera work and cinematography. New York has been filmed by just about everybody but in the hands of the Safdie brothers it hasn’t felt this alive in a long time. The very streets are bursting with activity, the streets come alive on screen and the very essence of New York can be felt. The use of long lenses makes us feel as if we are watching Howard from afar, getting a glimpse into his destructive world, this comes from the Safdie brothers and their masterful cinematographer. Right at the binging of the film the jewel that will eventually end up in the hands of Howard is shown to us, not just the outside but the camera sends us plugging into the depths of the jewel. As the camera dives into the jewel the screen begins to burst with a wondrous array of colours, these colours are used to genius effect as they lay the very foundations of the film’s colour palette and the beautiful cinematography by Darius Khondji. It brilliantly reminds us of the jewel that is at the heart of Howard’s life now, something that could finally save him as he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit of his own creation.

It’s cinema in its most exciting form and grabs the new decade by the throat and demands to be seen. When the next decade blows past and we look back on the films it had to offer, Uncut Gems will stand out as the most exciting and stressful piece of cinema we all got to witness.

***** 5/5


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