Pegasus Film Festival
Uncut Gems: Chaos and Gold Chains
By Julia Hunt
The Safdie brothers, Josh and Benny, have never been clean, and with their new film, “Uncut Gems”, is slimier than ever. The film’s premise is simple. Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler, is a man working in the bustling diamond district with a crippling gambling addiction, who receives the sale of a lifetime, thrusting him into dangerous bets with even more dangerous people. The Safdies, who just received the Independent Spirit Award for Best Directing this past weekend, make this world and its occupying characters as vibrant as possible, something other writers might have fallen into cliches with, especially with characters such as Howard’s worker and mistress, Julia De Fiore (played by Julia Fox) and Eric Bogosian’s character who would have just became a plot-point-side-piece and a boring character dynamic. In other words, Uncut Gems is a thrilling adrenaline ride, with incredible performances, including a career best performance from Sandler, a tense and masterfully stressful script, and bombastic- synth-y soundtrack for the ages.
The performances in this film are amazing. Sandler shines in this role and revels in its sleaziness with an incomparable energy. Its well known that he was this year’s main snub for leading man (with Robert Pattinson’s Winslow right beside him) but watching this film and seeing him perform at the top of his game is something incredibly interesting (with most of my experience of his filmography being his 2000’s comedies - not the greatest, I must say). And he isn’t alone when it comes to exciting performances. Lakeith Stanfield, like always, is amazing and absolutely absorbs himself in his character in his coy smiles and charming ambitions. Julia Fox plays her self-titled character with a magnetism and kindness that shines through the film in the most sincere way possible. And all the antagonists? Each character opposing Howard and his wills (most obviously Keith Williams Richards’ Phil) are delightfully, until not, played, creating a luscious world only the Safdies and their attentions to the smallest characters can create.
In addition, the film’s script, also penned by the Safdies and Ronald Bronstein, is a trying crescendo with scenes that have characters crash and collide with another. The Safdies take their ideas of having multiple characters speak at once (which they first experimented in 2017’s “Good Time”) and compound upon it as a way to represent the overall chaos that emanates from the film. There are moments of silence in the film, but with the chaotic energy that occupies the entirety of the script, those moments become simmering with a tension you know will end those moments of rest (and they do). “Uncut Gems” also features some of the most interesting plays on the convention of the sacred object, a trope mostly used in horror flicks. However, the Safdies and Bronstein flip this somewhat stale trope on its head and use it to make some interesting commentary. The film is also quite hilarious in its strange moments (one memorable moment is when Howard tells his workers to not let a man in, a clip already used in many film Twitter memes), a feature that Sandler frequently relishes in. In other words, the writing in this film is a lesson in absolute chaos, either for comedic or dramatic effect. In addition, the soundtrack, composed by Daniel Lopatin for this film, is a synth-y fun house that acts as a main character just like Howard Ratner, playing over each scene in a way that plays with the film’s pandemonium, instead of merely underscoring it.
However, despite my recent praise of this film, I do understand this film is not for everyone. Those who prefer their movie going experience to be clean in the language department will find this This film is currently at number 7 when it comes to f-bombs, with about 3 a minute as an average. Nonetheless, to those who are not peeved by the use of language, I highly recommend those who can to watch this film. I think you’ll look through the grim this film presents and find it to be exhilarating and pulse-pounding as I did.
* This film also has one of my favorite endings in the recent films I’ve watched and I would love to discuss it with anyone who wants to talk about it *
Uncut Gems in currently in theaters everywhere and Netflix internationally