Uncut Gems Review
by E. McDonnell
**** 4 Stars
‘For the audience, this gives us the realisation that Howard has sacrificed everything for a piece of rock giving us an insight into the dark side of American capitalism, where mystical highs are followed by crushing blows – and there’s always a price to pay.’
Director(s): The Safdie Brothers
Actors: Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield
A charismatic jeweller makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the pay-out of a lifetime. In a dangerous high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win. If it doesn’t pay off, he could lose everything…
Uncut Gems is the highly anticipated crime thriller from Netflix starring Adam Sandler in the titular role from the critically acclaimed Safdie Brothers. Although, nearly everything I have read in other reviews about this film have only told me 2 things: 1) how intense and unnerving the film is and 2) how Adam Sandler actually can act, in a film that isn’t a comedy (unpopular opinion, I personally think Adam Sandler’s early films are pretty funny – hello, have you seen The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore?) Yet, all these reviews have pretty much left everything else out-here’s why Uncut Gems deserves 4 stars…
Most of the hype surrounding the movie was around Adam Sandler and his performance which was very different from many of his typically comedic roles, which some were saying could be Oscar nominee worthy. Personally, I thought that the performance couldn’t match the torturous extremes of Joaquin Phoenix although it did and Sandler played the part of an untrustworthy jewel seller perfectly. His charismatic nature gave the character some likeability but was perfect for someone who thinks they are unstoppable, when they couldn’t be further from the truth. It is in fact his personality which ironically is his downfall. Sandler also played on the extremely frustrating fact, he was addicted to gambling which was a very important part to the narrative, and his desperation and aspiration really came through. One of the particularly striking moments is when a distressed and overwhelmed Howard breaks down, and it was not pleasant to see Sandler crying – you really do feel sorry for him, despite the fact he is an arrogant, selfish and irrational person! The audience are meant to understand that his character is NOT a good guy but yet, Sandler’s performance really asks you to warm to him. This is a surprising and quite different performance from Adam Sandler proving he isn’t just a comedy actor and hopefully, we’ll get to see more performances like this from Mr Sandler in the future.
Sandler’s performance was not the only good performance in the film however, oh no. KG himself, Kevin Garnett gave an excellent performance as an eccentric and obsessed basketball player – but then in his own words, he was only playing himself! Another acting debut that really stood out was Julia Fox, who plays the part of Howard’s secret love interest (basically the lead actress) who, get this, has never acted before in her life!! Um, what? I mean her character was an obnoxious, ungrateful, homewrecker but gave a damn good performance – especially for a first-time actor. I’ll be very surprised if we don’t start seeing more of Miss Fox in the future. Overall, most of the cast gave very good and realistic performances which as, many of the characters were playing against their character type, felt very fresh (Idina Menzel and Lakieth Stanfield particularly are honourable mentions, even if you didn’t like either of their characters very much!) This really brought a feeling of realism to the whole film; the use of real places in New York’s diamond district and real people, just rose the stakes as you really believed these people’s motives and frustrations with Howard, in places where things like this may happen in real life. My point is that, you forget that these people are ‘characters’ in a ‘story’ which really added to the key point of the film – the suspense and intensity created through the the consequences of Howard’s actions.
The film was VERY intense and I am not saying that lightly. It was very clever at rising suspense and keeping you hooked in the story. One particularly heart-racing part is when the door into the jewellery shop gets jammed and things get very, very heated and claustrophobic (which is also a very good use of foreshadowing – watch to find out). Although, one particular criticism of the film I would have is that the film is in parts too intense to be enjoyable. It was at times overwhelming with the amount of shouting, swearing and overall noise just made me want to turn it down. The amount of swearing, particularly, just undermined the seriousness of situations at times as it became meaningless, as did the unnecessary sex scenes and insinuations, which for me just acted as another reason for the film to be R rated. One theme of ‘even better ifs’, the sequences, despite there being some very good sequences, didn’t seem to lead to anything. The film seems to build up to one particular event at the end of the film (spoilers) which is a very good twist, although, the building blocks of the story seem to fall flat. For all the threats, violence, breakdowns and running, the sequences never seem to amass to anything. In contrast, the film had a very clever and intricate plot with good character arcs and realistic stakes and it is very entertaining. It was also very intricately and skilfully filmed with long shots to build suspense and some interesting imagery focusing on small details to increase intensity.
One standout and very surreal part was when the camera floats through the inside of the gem which is very otherworldly and looked like something out of Avatar. This was one moment in which Daniel Lopatin’s twinkling synth score really added to the atmosphere of the scene as it fit perfectly with the ‘out of this world’ elements of the film, hinting at the opal’s supernatural hold over those who come into its possession. In fact, the only moment the audience get to take a breath is when Howard is left alone with the gem, absorbed in desire and awe. Although, I personally found the score annoying in parts as it didn’t always fit with what was going on the screen. It was extra background noise to the already tense sound of the film and often clashed with influxes of rap music and tense synth beats which I felt worked better, as they sounded like Howard’s racing heartbeat building to the inevitable breakdown of his character. For the audience, this gives us the realisation that Howard has sacrificed everything for a piece of rock giving us an insight into the dark side of American capitalism, where mystical highs are followed by crushing blows – and there’s always a price to pay.
Ultimately, Uncut Gems is an exciting, unique and entertaining film that really keeps you on the edge of your seat. In the words of Bobby Bouchée, “some quality H2O”.
Uncut Gems is now available on Netflix and was rated 15 by the BBFC.