By Adam Ray Palmer
The Safdie brothers, a writing/directing pair, are back in 2020 with their sixth feature film as a collaboration for the online giants, Netflix.
After a couple of weeks in cinemas, Uncut Gems made its way onto the streaming service last weekend and everyone around the world could enjoy the same cinematic anxiety together.
Let me explain…
Set it 2012, the film follows city jeweller Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a man addicted to edge-of-your-seat thrills. When he procures a rare gemstone from Ethiopia, he thinks he’s hit the big time. This could finally be his answer to his ever-growing list of debts to disgruntled and violent men.
One of his jewellery store clientele, Basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself), visits the shop and is obsessed with the gem and the mythic power he feels it offers him. Reluctantly, and arguably pushed a little by Demany (LaKeith Stanfield), Howard agrees to allow the NBA star to borrow the gem, and what ensues from here is a week of chaotic events as Ratner battles creditors, auction houses, family members, mistresses and local mobsters who are owed a fair few dollars – but maybe, just maybe, the gem is Ratner’s saviour.
From the first five minutes of Uncut Gems, you know it’s a Safdie Brothers’ production. It’s gritty, littered with neon-vibe colours and a pulsating soundtrack to get the credits out the way. For the next two hours, it’s like a cinematic panic attack. It’s unpredictable and frenetic creating a visceral and fatiguing feeling from top to bottom. I could only describe it as having a shot of the strongest Lucozade going, laced with acid, and you just want it to end – but in a good way, I guess?
The thing that makes Uncut Gems so satisfyingly exhausting is the constant switching of tempo. The brief releases of action or tension are needed, and timely, but do get a little bit repetitive. The continuous topsy-turvy plot of empathic highs and crushing lows is relentless, knowing there’s always a lesson to be learned for Ratner, but frustratingly he never gets it.
What comes of this is the only negative I can give the film, but it’s pretty major. The narrative can feel, somehow, laboured as there’s so much happening all the time that it can feel like individual, heart-palpitating scenes that are just thrown together. Rather than being a connected story unfolding, it can sometimes feel like things are happening for happening’s sake.
Let me say though, this is some work from Sandler. His performance is straight into his career-best classification. Reign Over Me, Funny People and Punch Drunk Love need to make a bit of space in the group for Uncut Gems. There’s so much for Sandler to do here, and he nails every zinger of dialogue and every scene-stealing moment offered. He weirdly has a creepy exterior, but he makes you back him for reasons I still don’t quite understand.
There’s a lot to Uncut Gems, and it’s certainly a movie heading in an exciting direction for the Safdie Brothers. Their unrelenting, slick shot-calling and harsh, fast-paced editing keeps you on your toes for 130 minutes. It feels so immersive, much like a couple of spins around a rollercoaster with a few corkscrews. I think Uncut Gems is a step up from Good Time, but I know the pair can go even further with their talent.
Cineroom’s rating: 4 stars
Uncut Gems is out now on Netflix worldwide – certificate 15