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Film Review: Uncut Gems

13 January 20 words: James Hill

Adam Sandler shines in a rip-roaring thriller full of low odds and high stakes...

Director: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

Starring: Adam Sandler, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik

Running time: 134 mins

Growing up between their parents in Queens and Manhattan, directors Hosh and Benny Safdie must have had a wealth of stories they could consider film-worthy. In their previous film, Good Time, Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie played two brothers in a crime-thriller set in New York City’s underworld, an underrated indie that showcased their naturalistic approach to filmmaking. 

With their latest effort, Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers continue to focus on characters living on the edge, only this time the lead is Adam Sandler (no laughing at the back). Sandler has starred in many a dud film but in the last couple of years has started to garner acclaim, first for The Meyerowitz Stories and then Murder Mystery, which was Netflix’s most watched film of 2019 in the US. 

In Uncut Gems, Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a charismatic Jewish jeweler working in the heart of New York City’s Diamond District, selling an array of gaudy pieces including a bedazzled Furby necklace with moving eyes. Despite being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, Ratner takes a gamble by importing a rare uncut rock from Ethiopia, in the hope that auctioning it will curtail the shady folk chasing him for cash. But when NBA player Kevin Garnett is brought to his jewelers, Ratner lets him take the rock on loan for a couple of days as Garnett is convinced it will bring him luck during the NBA Playoffs. As collateral, Ratner receives Garnett’s championship ring and immediately heads to a pawn brokers to get cash to place a big bet on the game.

Claiming the highest US opening box office weekend yet for studio A24, Uncut Gems is a sparkling start to 2020 and could potentially see Adam Sandler being considered Oscar-worthy

This decision is one of many that will have you questioning Ratner’s reasoning and lack of morals. Circumstances later lead him to confronting musician The Weeknd in a club, with the entire scene bordering on the absurd before being knocked back into realism. With the stakes ever increasing for Ratner as the film heads towards its conclusion, his religious family life and gambling addiction coalesce - Uncut Gems will have you more invested in basketball games than you ever thought possible.

Sound plays a vital role in the film, with electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never returning to provide a pulsating synth score that wouldn’t feel out of place in Blade Runner. Characters constantly talk over one another and the often frenzied conversations are a sensory overload, amplifying the anxiety felt throughout the film. The Safdie Brothers’ signature visual style of close-ups and fast-paced editing is prominent and gives Uncut Gems an often claustrophobic feel, especially in scenes set in the jewelers. Cinematography from Darius Khondji also gives the film a gritty eighties aesthetic, possibly helped in part by Executive Producer Martin Scorsese.

Claiming the highest US opening box office weekend yet for studio A24, Uncut Gems is a sparkling start to 2020 and could potentially see Adam Sandler being considered Oscar-worthy. Just don’t gamble on him actually winning.

Did you know? Uncut Gems features the fourth most uses of the word 'fuck' in film history.

Uncut Gems is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 16 January

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