Adam Sandler is certainly a controversial figure within the film industry. While some of his work has been well received, the vast majority of the actor’s films are widely panned; especially the ones where his creative freedom is allowed to run rampant. Despite all of this however Uncut Gems –the latest offering from the brothers Josh and Benny Safdie– unequivocally proves that every now and then, a diamond can be plucked from even the murkiest of depths.
Sandler himself gives a career-defining performance as Howard Ratner, a jeweller in Manhattan’s Diamond District with a severe gambling addiction, who is closing in on the deal of a lifetime while his adversaries simultaneously close in around him. Howard’s incessant need to acquire more and more wealth, even to the point of destruction is a parable as old as time. As a result, Uncut Gems feels not dissimilar to a modern Death of a Salesman, complete with the same levels of tragedy. Howard is a thoroughly immoral individual who is convinced of his own success even in the face of unending failure. It is this drive which causes every relationship in his life to be ultimately tarnished and destroyed as the film progresses, leading to the eventual climax.
Despite all of his shortcomings though, it’s impossible to not find yourself mesmerised by Howard, regardless of how you view his actions; such is the surprising level of charisma channelled by Sandler as Howard’s life chaotically spirals out of control. This is only compounded by the Safdie brothers’ directorial style and Darius Khondji’s cinematography, which is as frantic as Sandler’s own performance. It speaks volumes that the Safdies draw forth the obnoxiousness and abrasiveness of so many of Sandler’s other characters, yet are able to sculpt it into something incredible with genuine emotion. This genuineness is greatly aided by the supporting cast who only add to the innumerable successes of the film, especially Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, and (surprisingly) professional Basketball player, Kevin Garnett.
What unfolds is a rapid affair that is at once chaotic and thoroughly gripping, with the audience unable to look away from the screen for a second. At times, Uncut Gems feels like a fever dream, in part thanks to Daniel Lopatin’s musical score that lends it a feeling that can only be described as akin to a sensory hallucination. This initially seems at odds with the rest of the film’s realism, but if anything the awareness of this only adds to the sense of anxiety and fear one feels watching the film. Moreover, it results in a number of elements which mesh seamlessly creating something truly marvellous.
@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 17 Jan 2020