Uncut Gems

5
Uncut Gems

TIME OUT SAYS

Josh and Benny Safdie, the indie filmmaking brothers whose New York City movies shudder with attitude, tell fast and grubby stories that hark back to the 1970s, when Sidney Lumet ruled sets. Their vigour is an instant rush: why creep a camera down a hallway when you can fling it behind equally unhinged characters? There’s no nostalgia to their films, no cuteness, only the mania of urban survival, improvised on the fly with a side of trash talk.

Uncut Gems, the Safdies’ electrifying and abrasive latest drama, flirts with becoming a headache. (For some, it will feel like more than flirting.) But the film gets closer than the brothers ever have to developing a genuine affection for their various schemers, and that makes all the difference. Tenaciously, it follows a week in the 2012 life of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Diamond District dealer, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, chanelling his obnoxiousness into something magically right, even moving). You may be overwhelmed by the Safdies’s spiky sound design – filled with yelling, the jewellery shop’s constantly buzzing security door and an over-caffeinated, Tangerine Dream–like synth score – but Howard thrives in this chaos. It’s his normal.

Beyond his bling salesmanship, Howard dreams of a big score, which arrives by messenger from Ethiopia: a gleaming chunk of opal-encrusted rock which he hopes to auction off for a fortune. The various whereabouts of this stone will become a plot spine for Uncut Gems, but that’s just an excuse to ping-pong Howard between a kaleidoscopic cross-section of sharply etched neurotics: pawnshop regulars, menacing debt collectors (led by a spookily intense Eric Bogosian), a semi-estranged wife (Idina Menzel, seeping fury from every pore) and a brassy counter clerk, who may be falling in love with him (Julia Fox, making a stellar debut).

The Safdies have a palpable love of gamesmanship, of arguments pushed to the brink, verbal beatdowns and courtside chatter. (Gifted cinematographer Darius Khondji, a master of reflections, gives Uncut Gems a sheen that visually counterbalances.)

The film isn’t merely an outstanding portrait of a charming fate-tempter who goes a bit too far, but a kind of autobiography (as was their 2009 breakthrough, Daddy Longlegs). It’s made with so much love, care and enthusiasm – plus no small amount of risk – you thrill to think that they’re just getting started.
Released: On Netflix from Jan 31

By JOSHUA ROTHKOPF | 20 Jan 2020

DETAILS

Uncut Gems
Release DateJanuary 31, 2020
DirectorBenny Safdie, Josh Safdie
CastingAdam Sandler, Mesfin Lamengo, Suin Zhi Hua-Hilton, Liang Wei-Hei Duncan
Film Category Crime