"Uncut Gems" is a high-wire act of mood and energy, and it will pummel your senses. It's also one of the best movies of 2019, if you can endure it.
The world has officially flipped upside-down, because Adam Sandler - yes, that Adam Sandler - gives an Oscar-worthy performance in "Uncut Gems," the latest absolute gem-of-a-film from Josh and Benny Safdie, or, the Safdie Brothers.
Sandler plays a New York City jeweler who is also a smooth-talking, degenerate gambler. When we meet him, he's already underwater with debts that he can't repay, but he's always on the hustle. He's married to his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) and has a child but he's also in love with one of his employees, the sharp-tongued Julia (a break-out performance by Julia Fox). In many ways, he's a dead-man-walking when we meet him, as some of his shadier business partners are wanting to collect, and his manic movements and decision-making resembles that of a man stuck in quicksand: The more he treads the faster he sinks.
Sandler's "great performance" isn't in that he somehow stretches or contorts himself away from what we know of him, but that his character, Howard, seems like the role that Sandler was born to play. He is a smart-mouth funny man, but he also portrays a deeply scared and unsettled man who knows he's in over his head. Unlike many protagonists in films, the Safdie Brothers are not interested in Howard's redemption, because happy endings only happen in the movies. He can't help but make the wrong decision over and over again, and it's agonizing that the viewer can see his escape routes, even though he can't.
Anyone that caught the Safdie Brother's 2017 film, "Good Time" will recognize the mood they create with "Uncut Gems." It's greatly benefited by the mesmerizing score from Daniel Lopatin - perhaps better known as his recording alias, Oneohtrix Point Never - who also did "Good Time," and who seems to be channeling the electro-synthetic soul of Giorgio Moroder.
The Safdie's dialogue clashes into, is layered on top of, and blends in with itself, a messy tapestry of words reminiscent of the best of Robert Altman. The frantic, shaky camera work from Oscar-nominated cinematographer, Darius Khondji ("Amour," "Evita") perfectly contributes to the mood. And if there ever was a long-lost Safdie brother, it would have to be Ronald Bronstein, who not only is credited as a co-writer on "Uncut Gems" along with the Safdie Brothers, as he was with "Good Time," but he also acts as the film editing partner to Benny Safdie. The point being, this is as technically astute as a film has been in 2019, making this a real contender for multiple Oscar nominations.
What also feels different about "Uncut Gems," is that is brushes its characters up against real-life people. NBA great Kevin Garnett, for example, plays a huge role in the film, and there are cameos from The Weeknd and also John Amos! Amos, you may remember, was the dad on the show "Good Times," which may explain his inclusion as a nod to the Safdie Brothers previous film. Oh, and LaKeith Stanfield also plays a major role as one of Howard's associates.
This is a mad scramble of emotion, and a brutally raw film that just never takes its foot off the gas. Admittedly, this might be too much for a casual movie-goer to handle, but there's no denying that "Uncut Gems" is an absolute diamond in the rough...a whirlwind that blows past your eyes and leaves you wondering what you just saw. The short answer is: Nothing that you've ever seen before.
Genre: Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian.
Written and directed by Josh and Bennie Safdie ("Good Time," "Heaven Knows What").
"Uncut Gems" opens on Christmas Day 2019.
Looking for a specific movie or review?