Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems is the Safdie brothers’ Good Times on speed, starring Adam Sandler in eye-popping perpetual motion.

Carat and Shtick

by Alexa Dalby

Uncut Gems

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Adam Sandler, concealed behind specs, a goatee and questionable fashion taste, excels as Howard Ratner, a motormouth, risk-addicted small-time New York jeweller.

The clue’s in the name Ratner – it’s not a positive association for us Brits (was this deliberate, I wonder?) and Howard is pushing the ‘crap’ envelope in his downmarket premises. He’s a gambling addict being chased by heavies for his huge debts, yet he can’t resist trying to solve all his problems with yet another massive gamble – smuggling in a rare, massive 5,000-carat black opal from an Ethiopian mine, hoping to sell it at auction for millions.

In fact, Uncut Gems starts with the miners deep in the bowels – the winding tunnels – of the African mine, segueing almost imperceptibly into the endoscope following the interior of Howard’s own bowels as we see his colonoscopy live on screen. It’s telling us the desire for gems as a panacea for his ills is deep within his being. He’s addicted to risk and it drives all his bad decisions –like the bad decisions made by Robert Pattinson’s character in Good Times – over the course of a frenetic couple of days.

The camera in Uncut Gems, like its ever more desperate manic central character, never stops hurtling around the streets of central New York and its suburbs. The rapid dialogue piles layer upon layer of fast-talking New York accents so that at first it’s hard to work out exactly what’s going on. What emerges is a man in free fall in both his shaky business and personal life – he has a wife, son and a mistress to keep happy – who never stops running just to stay in the same place to stand still for long enough to keep all his plates spinning in the air.

Does his crazy plan work out for him? Does he get his life together? Well, he’s basically a shmuck but Sandler plays him to perfection and suspends our disbelief, even perhaps creates a little sympathy for him by the end of the film. Uncut Gems is a brilliant achievement for the two Safdie brothers – it’s exciting, entertaining filmmaking, a bittersweet soufflé with a hard centre, well worth seeing for Sandler’s virtuoso performance alone.

Uncut Gems is in select cinemas from 10 January 2020 and on Netflix from 31 January 2020.

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