Cameron Lee ‘20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Cinema makes us feel many different things; joy, sadness, excitement, just to name a few. Josh and Benny Safdie, known as the Safdie Brothers, are early in their career yet already boasts an impressive resume with Heaven Knows What and the incredible Good Time have mastered a different feeling from what was listed above; anxiety!
Uncut Gems feels like the culmination of their quest to make an audience have a panic attack inside a theatre. A crime thriller that doesn’t stop until the credits roll, Uncut Gems is a thrilling heart-stopping roller coaster ride with an amazing lead performance from Adam Sandler that showcases his skills as an actor better than any film has since Paul Thomas Andeson’s Punch-Drunk Love.
Sandler plays Howard Ranter, a Jewish jewelry store owner and addicted gambler in the diamond district of Manhattan. After procuring a special gem from Ethiopia, Howard gives it to Kevin Garnett (playing himself) for one night to convince him to but the gem at an auction happening in the next few days. But that’s not all, he also has to deal with loan sharks and mobsters who he owes a lot of money in debt, his relationship with his wife and the woman who he’s having an affair with is disintegrating, and keeps making outlandish bets on basketball games in order to win big. The plot takes place over only a few days, and events always get better for a split second only for it to go to hell in another. The amount of dialogue that occurs can fill an entire play, it’s a rapid-paced script that gives Howard and the film no time to rest. He’s constantly on the phone, trying to talk down furious criminals, and screaming so often that it’s rather surprising he doesn’t throw his voice out.
No one else could have played this role than Mr. Sandler. His comedic stick and timing are perfect for this. He’s charming one minute to clients and the women in his life and an uncontrollable spastic mess the next. Sandler does all of this often in the same scene. He never catches his breath or slows down, he is downright fearless in this role and it’s a joy to watch when he tries to scheme up a plan or struggle to achieve his goals. Howard is the definition of a character we shouldn’t like yet we do. The Safdie brothers have a knack for making investing and compelling main characters who are horrible people look at Robert Pattinson as Connie in Good Time. Yet despite how bad of a person Howard is and how bad of a father he is, you can’t help but relate to what he wants in life. He wants to win big and to feel like he’s achieved something incredible in his life. We all have a dream like that, and that dream of him making a big score makes us root for Howard even when we really shouldn’t.
The Safdie brothers construct their films with a question, how far can you push a narrative full of constantly changing events and circumstances in a short amount of time. This film is like taking cocaine, from the first scene until the last, the score plays at the same volume as the dialogue making it hard to hear what everyone is saying yet this only adds to the mindset the brothers want us to be in. The electronic score by Daniel Lopatin propels the action while being a headbanger to listen to. The editing is incredibly well cut (no pun intended) bouncing around different points of view in a scene yet never feeling unfocused. Most action films and blockbusters can learn a thing or two from watching their films, like keeping a consistent pace while never letting up, and keeping the stakes as high as possible.
It’s hard to imagine the Safdie brothers topping themselves after this. They’ve done all one can possibly do in this style. The film is bookended with scenes that feel straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey with its trippy visuals inside the world of a gem. It never lets up until the credits roll. In this case, the film is truly the cinematic equivalent of the aforementioned cocaine. All one thinks about after watching this film is watching it again. For Howard it’s the massive gem he acquires at the start of the film, that’s the drug that sustains him throughout this film. He looks into it and sees only happiness and success instead of his only faults and the dangers that await him. If only he had time to evaluate his life maybe his things could have been different. But as Charlie Murphy once said, cocaine is a hell of a drug!
Overall Grade: A-
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