Chaos for chaos's sake
Uncut Gems (2019): A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime.
What a wild and insane film. The latest from the Safdie Brothers, (who have been around for a while but burst on to the scene with 2017's Good Time) Uncut Gems follows the crazy, chaotic life of Howard Ratner in NYC. (Adam Sandler) Howie is a rather stereotypical New Yorker, a Jewish jeweler living in the heart of Manhattan who likes to bet big on sporting events. He's a cunning salesman, able to (or at least attempt to) talk himself out of any situation and completely addicted to the life he leads. There are girls, collectors, insane schemes, plenty of booze, and of course, Kevin Garnett. I love it, and I'm so here for it.
There's a fiery sense of palpability to the Safdie Brothers' filmmaking. I've only seen two of their films, Good Time and this, but their handiwork is instantly distinguishable. Their prophetic use of colors and closeup to elicit heightened emotional responses are at the forefront of this style. While I would say Good Time leans into these aesthetics a bit more than Uncut Gems, the later makes up for it with some utterly insane dialogue. This film is chaos, for chaos sake, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the dialogue. A great double feature to see the power of dialogue firsthand would be this film and Little Women. Both use a stacked dialogue style to tell their respective stories. However, whereas Greta would use stacked dialogue in an elegantly chaotic sense, to elicit a sort of organized, controlled chaos in Little Women, the Safdie Brothers use stacked dialogue in a totally destructive way. Everyone is talking over one another, constantly upping the ante to eleven to try and get their point across. (Very New Yorker of them, right?) This dialogue is chaos for chaos sake, in a very unrefined sort of way, which does have its downsides from time to time.
When you have a film as raw as this, there will be some imperfections. Certain scenes can be hard to follow, particularly when you add Howie's superfluous lifestyle into the equation, (the sound design struggles to keep up when you're talking over each other in a loud night club) but it's nowhere near enough to detract from the wild ride this film is. And, at its core is some of the craziest pairings I've ever imagined in a film. Who woulda thought you'd see Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, LaKeith Stanfield, and The Weeknd in a film led by Adam Sandler? Makes perfect sense, right? And who woulda thought Adam Sandler would be so good? The long-standing actor puts in possibly the best performance of his career, (certainly the glitziest) a jarring reminder that the dude who is making money off the likes of Grown Ups 2 and The Ridiculous 6 can also act when he feels like it. It feels like Sandler just needs to remind us every few years that he can act so he can make three more crappy movies, but hey. If what we get in this theory is the likes of Uncut Gems, I ain't complaining.
It also helps that Howie is an incredibly interesting protagonist. He's wild and unpredictable - incapable of thinking more than a few seconds ahead, while also having the undeniable charm of a snake oil salesman - with a hilariously depressing home life and hordes of collectors / adversaries closing in. Howie is the reason you watch Uncut Gems, as his character arc is as fascinating as it is harrowing. The Safdie brothers grip you to the edge of your seat from the first moment to the film's completely unexpected ending. (May be the best ending of the year, by the way. Certainly in the conversation.) Find it and experience it, as this journey is as wild a journey you can find to come out of 2019.
My Number: 9/10
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