Monday, December 23, 2019

Uncut Gems - Review

The Safdie Brothers, a directing duo that produces films that are bound to not be for everyone. In 2017, Good Time put them on the map for a lot of people, with its grimy, loud, and violent portrait of a New York criminal. In 2019, they return to the formula for more griminess, noise, and violence, but this time with some added comedy from the Sandman himself.

A charismatic jeweler (Adam Sandler) makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.

The film essentially boils down to the fatal flaws of its main character: he always seems to make the worst possible choice. Whether it’s a ludicrous bet on a basketball game or the desperate hunt for the titular stone, Howard Ratner takes one step closer to his inevitable downfall. From the oddest title card reveal ever to the closing credits, the film is a lesson in kinetic energy, never slowing down, never letting the audience catch its breath, and it’s arguably better for it.
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, the directing and writing team of Uncut Gems, appear to have no interest in giving their characters any semblance of a redeeming quality. If they did, the relentless, pounding nature of their films would lose the power behind the punch, and would likely falter along the way. Uncut Gems is certainly far from perfect, but its faults come and go, and the film gets back and focused on the committed lead performance from Adam Sandler. 

At the center of this madness of a movie is a character that is so supremely annoying yet finely tuned to Sandler’s abilities that it elevates the film beyond the recognition it likely would’ve received had someone else been in the role. Sandler is crazed, a manic and despicable human, but yet still so watchable that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen that he commands for the entirety of the runtime.  It is a performance that has rightfully earned him a position in the awards discussion.

Uncut Gems is a film that, to the shock of no one, will not be for everyone, the nature of its premise and unrelenting intensity of the Safdie Brothers style will be too much for some people. But for those looking for one of the best performances of 2019, Adam Sandler wholly deserves that title. The film ultimately lives or dies on the audience’s opinion of that character and performance. If you don’t buy into it, you probably will find the annoying character tiresome and grating. If you’re down for what Sandler is going for, then buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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