Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems ★★★★★

Uncut Gems (2019) opens with an ethereal trip through the cosmos via the facets of a gem that transitions to a colonoscopy and this visual reinforces the film's main theme: in the grand scheme of the universe one’s life means nothing.

Adam Sandler (in one of the greatest roles of his career) plays Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweler who owns a store in New York, and who is also addicted to gambling. He owes a huge amount of money to some loan sharks and the narrative of the film follows him around as he places more and more bets trying to win a huge payoff that will enable him to finally pay everyone what they are owed. The Safdie brothers seemed to be obsessed with exploring chaos theory, more specifically "the butterfly effect" which is the idea that a small action can cause a chain reaction that results in a huge result later. Sandler’s character is only important to this small sphere of influence and we the audience see that even though he is the “hero” of the movie he is just as vulnerable to good and bad luck as the rest of us. Their previous film, Good Time (2017), played around with this theme too--the kinetic force of decisions and consequences.

If one thinks about the title, Uncut Gems, the rock in the film that contains the opals represents the potential for wealth and greatness, but in its current form it’s just an idea. The opals need to be removed from the rock and refined for them to have their true worth. Adam Sandler’s character is the human version of an uncut gem, he’s trying the whole film to win so he can feel like he’s worth something. Sandler is a fantastic choice to portray this character as he has this nervous energy about him, and the contrast between his unassuming persona and the high stakes events going on around him is dynamic. Uncut Gems is most likely one of the most anxiety inducing films ever made, and the Safdie brothers control tonal changes like a conductor with an orchestra, expertly raising and lowering the tension like movements in a song. There isn't very much downtime in this film, but the few moments of peace that are afforded to the audience are like breaths of fresh air.

Oneohtrix Point Never returns to compose the soundtrack under his real name Daniel Lopatin, and his undulating analog synth score propels the already frantic pace of the film. His score is strong and at times almost overpowering, but this is intentional. The cinematography, much of it done with handheld style camera work, is jittery and panicky, constantly zooming in and out of close-ups, whipping around the room, and it feels like running a marathon instead of passively watching a film. While some might not be satisfied with where the story goes in Uncut Gems, it is a masterclass in establishing and maintaining mood and should be lauded for its commitment to embracing nihilism and chaos.