Friday, January 3, 2020

Movie Review: "Uncut Gems" (2019)

Director: Josh and Benny Safdie
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

A New York jeweler steeped in gambling debt tries to create one last deal for a big payoff that he believes will fix his problems and give him the monetary win that has so far evaded his grasp.

Kevin Garnett (Kevin Garnett) and Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) discuss borrowing a rare stone containing black opals from Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) in The Safdie Brothers' 2019 film "Uncut Gems."
Kevin Garnett (Kevin Garnett) and Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) discuss borrowing a rare Ethiopian stone containing black opals from Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) in The Safdie Brothers' 2019 film "Uncut Gems." (Image Source)
When we see the words "starring Adam Sandler" on a movie's promotional materials, we assume most people walk in expecting to watch Sandler and his closest comedy buddies on a glorified vacation while they make funny voices, make stupid toilet jokes, and watch donkeys have projectile diarrhea for 95 minutes. However, usually once a decade, Adam Sandler stars in a film that's meant to bolster his cred. with critics and cinephiles to show that underneath the very thick layer of immature humor is a bonafide actor capable of delivering a killer performance. "Uncut Gems," which is written and directed by Benny and Josh Safdie, is one of those films. It tells the story of a jeweler named Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), who is a self-centered gambling addict buried in debt to many unsavory characters. Howard has a plan for a big score involving a hunk of uncut Ethiopian black opal and Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics. As Howard's debtors grow impatient, and as his family life falls apart, so may his plan to strike it big.
Julia (Julia Fox) meets up with rapper The Weeknd in a New York club in the movie "Uncut Gems."
Julia (Julia Fox) meets up with rapper The Weeknd in a New York club in the movie "Uncut Gems." (Image Source)
Since its debut at the Telluride film festival, "Uncut Gems" has generated a lot of positive buzz online. Some have called it "the best film of the year," and many have heralded Adam Sandler's performance as Oscar-worthy. We totally agree that Sandler does an astonishing job portraying a shady, charismatic, opportunistic man always looking for a way to score his next huge payday. One might not think Howard's line of work would create a feverish, non-stop, edge-of-your-seat, headache-inducing adrenaline rush, but the way he lives his life and how he plays the game comes with a wild energy that rarely (if ever) lets up. As a character, Howard is always taking one step forward and two steps back. Even if he is threatened within an inch of his life, Howard finds a way to bullshit his way out of his problems again, and again, and again. Even when things work out in his favor, he keeps on risking everything he has gained for a little bit more. He is his own worst enemy. Though Sandler's performance might not be our absolute favorite of the year, we do think it is worthy of awards attention. His performance is not entirely unexpected as he has delivered similarly powerful portrayals in "Punch Drunk Love," "Reign Over Me," and "The Meyerowitz Stories."

"Uncut Gems" is a frenetic, high-energy, always-buzzing movie full of neon, lies, text tones, endless chatter, f-bombs, and car horns. Adding to the dizzying cavalcade of sights and sounds is an excellent score by Daniel Lopatin that adds to the sense of glistening hope, dread, and uncertainty. This is one of the most vexing, teeth-gnashing movies we saw in 2019. It is a frustrating story to watch because Ratner is such an irksome character. Just when we think he's going to do the right thing and see the error of his ways, he doubles down and makes the wrongest move possible. The Safdie Brothers try to immerse us into Howard's world, but we always felt more like passive observers because we're kept at arm's length and never truly connected to him due to his deceitful nature. Though there is a lot to like about this project, it's not nearly as engrossing as their previous directorial effort, "Good Time." It has many tense, awkward, electric moments that will leave you holding your breath, particularly in the last act, but it will also make you exceedingly uncomfortable as you watch the story unfold.
In "Uncut Gems," Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, an unscrupulous but charismatic New York jeweler who bites off more than he can chew.
In "Uncut Gems," Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, an unscrupulous but charismatic New York jeweler who bites off more than he can chew. (Image Source)
Given its tone and themes, we have a hunch that "Uncut Gems" will not have much mass appeal, though A24 and Safdie Brothers fans will find a lot to enjoy here. Still, we had lofty expectations for "Uncut Gems" and it didn't always rise to them. We really liked it, but it won't be on our list of the top films of the year. Call us suckers, but we still prefer "Good Time."

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.1/10
RT Rating: 92%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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