'Uncut Gems' (2019) - Film Review
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie
Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie and Ronald Bronstein
That’s a million dollar opal you’re holding. Straight from the Ethiopian Jewish tribe. I mean, this is old-school, middle-earth sh*t"
Set in New York in 2012, Howard Ratner is a charismatic jeweller and the ultimate optimist who goes from bad decision to bad decision in search of making money. He is consistently trying to balance life with his family and evade adversaries that he owes money to. Juggling all of these pressures, Howard embarks on a search for the highest pay day of his life.
- Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics enters Howard's shop with a mutual friend named Demany. Howard shows Garnett an opal that he had shipped in from Africa and proceeds to say how much it is worth and how much it will be sold for at an auction he has set up. Garnett is mesmerised by this opal and feels it has spiritual powers that will make him play better in the NBA playoffs. Howard loans this to Garnett for his NBA championship ring, Garnett takes the opal and Howard then pawns Garnett's ring for money to make a high stakes bet.
- While Howard has to deal with the issues of his business and money, he also is dealing with a failed marriage and a mistress that doesn't really seem to be as invested in him as he is in her.
- What ensues is a relentless crime/thriller/drama movie that never lets you breathe. Howard is consistently looking for the next best option to try and save his own skin and make money at the same time.
Positives of 'Uncut Gems'
This is one of my favourite movies of 2019 and the Safdie brothers are quickly becoming the most exciting directors in all of cinema. This movie really is relentless and is so fast paced that it's clear the Safdie brothers wanted to take the audiences nerve endings and completely shred them. The film makes you increasingly anxious and puts you on the edge of your seat throughout. The way this movie made me feel is unlike anything I have ever really experienced in cinema.
- The Safdie Brothers - Josh and Benny Safdie's direction of this movie cannot be understated as it is absolutely superb. The feelings they are able to evoke from the audience are so difficult to produce and they just seem to effortlessly be able to promote these reactions. This story is so original and they make it seem supremely realistic. They take a real life occurrence in the 2012 NBA playoffs, and a real life NBA player from that time in Kevin Garnett, and produce a story that is so believable that you would think it actually happened. They quite easily could have created fictional basketball teams, or fictional NBA players and got any actor to play a lead role. However, they knew this would not promote the amount of realism needed for this film and thus everything is meticulously chosen to aid the realistic nature of the movie. From the cinematography to sound mixing and then the acting, it is all produced to encompass the audience into the movie.
- Sound Mixing - This movie's sound may seem to be all over the place at first viewing. However, this is the intent of the directors, they want to disorientate the audience and we never know who is leading the conversations. Everybody is always talking over each other and its hard to grasp everybody's point of view, creating a real interesting aspect to the movie, making it very unnerving. It's almost as if these group scenes are not scripted and everyone is improvising, forcing the audience to completely forget they are watching a movie. Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) composed the original score for Uncut Gems and with his level of expertise, matched with the direction of the Safdie brothers, he created an unorthodox and immersive score.
- Realism - Without the realistic feel to this film, I do not think it would have worked, as the creation of realism is at the centre of everything. The way the movie is shot aids this, as it used 500t film stock. This creates a grainy feeling to the movie. But it's more of an internal feeling rather than physically seeing a grainy screen. The grain is felt and makes the audience think that what they are watching is a real event, and therefore become increasingly more invested in the story and the characters. The casting is also chosen through the scope of realism as it's full of people who had never acted. The Safdie brothers chose non-actors to play many of the characters. This is just a continuum of the realistic feature of this movie.
"I made a crazy risk, a gamble, and it’s about to pay off"
Performances of Note
The acting in Uncut Gems is really special and without all the performances, the film would not have received such critical acclaim. All the actors were carefully casted to convey different emotions and feelings from the audience.
- Adam Sandler (Howard Ratner) - There is no doubt that this is Adam Sandler's best performance as a male lead. His career has been very odd, for in his early years, as an actor, he did some more serious roles and was very impressive. But recently he's produced a fairly poor streak of comedy films. This is not one of them and for me, he should have been nominated for an Oscar last year because his performance is outstanding. He plays such an unlikeable character but somehow managed to make me empathise with him. He is in nearly every scene, thus, much of the movie relies on him and he knocks it out of the park. Sandler is utterly mesmerising and completely believable. For me, it is one of the best performances of recent times.
- Kevin Garnett (Himself) - For a retired basketball player, Kevin Garnett really has some potential as an actor. Because he is playing himself, that adds a level of difficulty to playing his character, but he is great. You completely believe that this is Garnett back in 2012, doing everything in his power to gain an edge in a tightly contested playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. He really convinces you that this opal is what he needs to play his best. Kevin Garnett only adds to the realistic feeling of the story and I thought he was fantastic.
- Julia Fox (Julia De Fiore) - I found this performance to be particularly special as this is her first movie and she looked like a seasoned actress. In an interview, Fox stated that she asked one of the Safdie brothers if she should get acting lessons after she was cast. They strongly advised her against this, as her acting skills were clearly there but the organic feeling she brought to the film really added to the realism.
“I think you are the most annoying person I have ever met. I hate being with you, I hate looking at you... And if I had my way I would never - see you - again”
Negatives of 'Uncut Gems'
For me, as a thriller, I don't see any negatives with Uncut Gems. It's fast paced, it's witty, it has intensity and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It really does have everything you would want in a crime/thriller movie. However, I do realise that this may not be for everyone and there could be some negatives for some audience members.
- Pacing - The pacing is relentless, thus if you do not like movies that don't allow you to breathe, Uncut Gems might not be for you. From start to finish, each scene provides a different level of stress and it could become exhausting for some viewers.
- Far-fetched - If an audience member does not gain the sense of realism that I and many movie goers felt when watching Uncut Gems, then the story and premise may feel silly. Howard constantly making bad decisions may start to annoy audience members and think why would he do that. However, I did not feel this way and was fully immersed into this world, but I can see why others might not get it or enjoy this style of film.
"I disagree. I disagree, Gary"
As you can probably tell, I thought this film was outstanding. When I think of the thriller genre and all the aspects that go into a high tier thriller movie, Uncut Gems has them all. This is the second movie in three years for the Safdie brothers, as they made Good Time in 2017, another fantastic film. What we are seeing are two directors who have a real knack for creating gritty and immersive thrillers, that leave you talking about the film, long after its been seen. Adam Sandler is a revelation in this movie and I really hope he continues to put performances in like this and stay clear of the sub-par comedies. This is 100% a film I would recommend for everyone and I hope you all love it as much as I did.