Uncut Gems Dec 25, 2019 11:20:16 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Dec 25, 2019 11:20:16 GMT -5
Uncut Gems (2019)
Directed by: Benny and Josh Safdie
Directed by: Benny and Josh Safdie
Adam Sandler — like you've never seen him before — in Uncut Gems.
Uncut Gems begins with a visceral knockout of an opening scene, setting the tone for an absurd tragedy. It opens in an Ethiopian mine where a terrible accident has just occurred, leaving one miner without his lower leg. It was all in effort to obtain a rock containing opals, which shimmer to reveal what looks to be every color of the rainbow. The camera dives deep into the gemstones and reveals a hypnotic blend of kaleidoscopic colors before emerging back into the real world, with an intense closeup of a character's intestines during a colonoscopy. If there was an award for the best trick shot of the year in cinema, Uncut Gems would run away with it.
The aforementioned character is Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a charismatic but entirely unreliable businessman who runs a high-end jewelry store in Manhattan's Diamond District. He's also a degenerate gambler, risking money he often doesn't have on high-stakes bets that leave him with more people to pay back and without much time to do so. Loathed by his wife (Idina Menzel) but finding solace in a young woman/employee who is unnervingly obsessed with him (Julia Fox), he thinks he has the score of a lifetime when the rock of opals he ordered from Ethiopia arrives at his shop. It happens to be delivered on the same day Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett waltzes into his store and is immediately taken with the object. Howard loans it to Garnett in lieu of the Celtics' mid-2010s playoff run against the Philadelphia 76ers, taking his championship ring as collateral. But Howard needs that rock back, for he believes it's worth north of $1 million; he, too, has an auction house ready to appraise and list it. Typically, Howard's plan goes awry, leaving him being hunted down by debt collectors, one of them his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian).
From the jump, Uncut Gems is a cacophonous blend of aesthetics; a symphony of chaos set to a pulsating score packing a frenetic energy liable to leave you exhausted. It's Adam Sandler as you've never seen him before, in a story that entraps you in a seemingly never-ending array of commodities and transactions. It's the rare film that left me physically drained with its dizzying pace and left my palms moist from its unflinching focus on its down-and-out anti-hero, who could botch a cup of coffee if he was tasked to make it.
This shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, however. The Safdie brothers, Benny and Josh, showed they knew how to control an ostensibly uncontrollable narrative with Good Time. Moreover, they mined a terrific performance out of Robert Pattinson in that picture, and they do the same with Sandler. Sandler is a jittery, fast-talking, utterly unpredictable time-bomb of a character, marred in his own delusions of grandeur. He's an obivous gambling addict, always raising the stakes when there's no one else at the table. The few times he does hit big, he doubles down and makes an even more outlandish bet until he's right back where he started from. You know Sandler nails this performance based on one factor: you can never take your eyes off of him despite the Safdie brothers making everything around him so volatile.
This goes back to the cerebral use of aesthetics. At times, characters talk over each other, with sounds of nearby streets or other settings overlapping. Avant-garde/EDM musician Daniel Lopatin's score adds to the discombobulated audio while the frantic camerawork spins you around and turns ordinary encounters into lucid dreams (credit to cinematographer Darius Khondji for keeping it all coherent). You wind up losing yourself in a mix of noise, but you never find yourself lost in the story — that's what makes the Safdie brothers' work so strong.
Beyond Sandler, there's a litany of solid work here from many actors. Garnett proves to be an amiable screen presence, as does Lakeith Stanfield, working as Howard's trusty assistant who brings clients into his jewelry shop. We don't get a lot of Eric Bogosian sightings anymore — an actor/underrated monologist who struck a chord with me with his brilliant performance in Oliver Stone's Talk Radio many moons ago — and it's nothing short of satisfying seeing him play Howard's sympathetic yet impatient brother-in-law, who links up with local goons (Tommy Kominick, Judd Hirsch) in hopes to get Howard to pay his debts forward. New York talk radio host Mike Francesa and R&B superstar The Weeknd own their moments while doing their parts to top off one of the most eclectic casts of the year.
The Safdie brothers find themselves once again engrossed by the type of grimy character-pieces that defined much of the 1970s (early Pacino films like Cruising and Serpico come to mind). What's remarkable is that although their films are essentially ugly symphonies of contemptible laymen, sloshed with disorienting visuals, they still find ways to be topical and say something about our society. With all the black humor Uncut Gems provides, it shows a culture too consumed by the next potential big score. It's one hyper-focused on commodities, such as rocks with opals and diamond/gold-studded Furby chains, strung together by laughably convoluted, winding trails of transactions that leave some (namely Howard) broken, defeated, and ultimately hunted. This has been a year of a plethora of solid-to-mostly-good movies. It's terrific to end the year with one that's truly great.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Tommy Kominick, Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian, Mike Francesa, and The Weeknd. Directed by: Benny and Josh Safdie.