This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Julian Towers’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
A great, three-course, future-cable-stable movie-movie: exciting, funny, scary, detailed and endlessly meme-able— people are gonna memorize every line of this thing. It's like Dog Day Afternoon or something.
But it's the bookends that really sell it for me, that really make this film last. The Safdie's frame Howard's quixotic, endless hustle by twice connecting his mortality to the infinite. In the beginning, we move from the "entire history of the universe" seen in an opal into one man's history of health as presented in a colonoscopy— suggesting the advancements of society (technological and otherwise) present a narrower view, show less than the natural world that has always existed among us. And of course at the end, after Howie's murder has rendered his already dubious achievement entirely irrelevant— lost to time— we travel through the bullet hole to see stars. The infinite, man's ultimate travel and potential, now exists or (perhaps) has always existed within him.
Like any film about addiction, Uncut Gems is really about dissatisfaction, and in that context the hidden peace of this final image is both gutting and thought provoking. How are we supposed to respond to this? What do we feel? Has Howie, in being cut down in the moment of victory, unlocked something lasting, or did he go right up to the end not realizing he had it all along?
Howie is obviously loathsome; a creature of pure self-interest. But these moments, and other examples, make me think the Safdies admire something in his drive, the unclear need that propels him ever forward. I think in juxtaposing ancient with modern, immortal with mortal, they're mourning the fact this drive must operate in the context of capitalism, society, dog-eat-dog competition etc. Howie is not an uncut gem, certainly, but nobody is; every relationship in this movie is introduced to us as already soured, too far gone. There's nothing to do with the many balls we have but juggle them— keep them in the air as long as possible.
In their longing for a clean slate, a field of stars against which humanity could strive as one, the Safdies beat out Malick and made the most earnestly spiritual film of the year — very much in line with the teachings of Judaism I received in my youth. God delivered the slaves to Israel, not so they could keep its milk and honey for themselves, but so they could share their tithing with the less fortunate— the sojourner, the outcast, the widow. Have we kept our promise?