Uncut Gems

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Uncut Gems
dir Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
scr Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
prd Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin
with Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik, Kevin Garnett, Abel Tesfaye, Jonathan Aranbayev, Noa Fisher
release US 13.Dec.19,
UK 10.Jan.19
19/US Netflix 2h15

menzel stanfield bogosian
london film fest

The Safdie brothers continue to develop as filmmakers, as this odyssey is much slicker than 2017's Good Time. It's also just as abrasive, with an ensemble of terrific actors playing seriously nasty people. And at the centre is an A-lister giving a performance far from the expected typecasting. The film creates the sense that nothing will go right for these people, but there several elements create a raw emotional connection.
In New York, Howard (Sandler) is a fast-talking jeweller who has run up serious gambling debts. He owes a huge sum to his brother-in-law Arno (Bogosian), who assigns two ruthless goons (Richard and Kominik) to keep an eye on him, sometimes aggressively. Meanwhile, Howard's wife Dinah (Menzel) grows fed up with his disastrous schemes and neglect of their three kids, not to mention the fact that he has girlfriend Julia (Fox) on the side. And his latest plan involves purchasing a large uncut opal from Uganda, then getting a good price for it.
As this narrative unfolds, Howard never gets a break. Everything goes wrong, often because of his appalling decision-making, starting with a basketball star (Garnett as himself) who wants to borrow the stone for good luck, egged on by Howard's slippery colleague Demany (Stanfield). The film propels along in the same out-of-control pace that Howard lives at, ricocheting around the city trying to keep all of the balls in the air, then revising plans for when they fall. So even small victories feel temporary.

Sandler has never delivered such a beefy performance, diving fully into Howard's obsessive hyperactivity. It's a disarming, jaw-dropping performance, most notably because this jerk is eerily easy to root for even though it's clear that he has driven his life irretrievably off the rails. Surrounding cast members are also terrific, with Menzel in a particularly storming performance and Bogosian finding some dark emotion under his steely nastiness.

The Safdies also coax textured performances from those playing themselves, including Garnett and Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd), shooting and editing to reveal the inner workings of everyone on-screen. Darius Khondji's urgent cinematography and Daniel Lopatin's visceral score draws the viewer even further into the movie's lurid atmosphere. It's the kind of film that throws us back in our seats from the start, taking us on an often appalling journey. Intriguingly, it's a personal story without any reverberating themes, and yet it still leaves us shaken.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Dec.19

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... Uncut Gems Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall