Uncut Gems review – an exhilarating, full-blown assault of a movie

Adam Sandler gives a career-best performance as a ducking-and-diving New York diamond dealer

Watching the flayed-nerve onslaught that is Uncut Gems for the second time, it occurred to me that Josh and Benny Safdie are working with an entirely different toolkit to that of other directors. Their films, which also include the street-junkie odyssey Heaven Knows What and Good Time, the plummeting spiral of a habitual fuck-up, starring Robert Pattinson, are crafted out of panic sweats, jangling anxiety and discord. They are edited with the jittery arrhythmia of a palpitating heart. The Safdie brothers’ films are uniquely stressful cinema.

But even by their usual standards, Uncut Gems is a full-blown assault. It’s like being locked in a small room crammed with too many people, all of whom are arguing and some of whom are chucking lit fireworks at your head.

That might sound off-putting – certainly, this won’t be a film for everyone – but for me, Uncut Gems is the most exhilarating movie experience of the past year. It’s a film that is impossible to sit back and watch passively – a clenched-muscle collision of overstimulation.

Wheeling through the capricious orchestrated chaos is Adam Sandler, delivering an abrasive, career-best performance as New York jeweller and risk addict Howard Ratner. As slippery as his satin shirts and as brash as the veneered grin he flashes at prospective buyers of his bling, Howard is the kind of man who views every interaction as a competition to be won. Juggling debt collectors, crazily complicated sports bets, his mistress (Julia Fox) and his wife (Idina Menzel, oozing disdain), life for Howard is a series of high-stakes gambles, the most crucial of which centres on a rare black opal, obtained, like almost everything in Howard’s life, in a way that is not entirely above board.

Darius Khondji’s camera dives into the stone and emerges, audaciously, during a routine colonoscopy. But in a way, the stone permeates every frame, informing a saturated colour palette of sea greens and jabs of neon orange, and symbolically representing the big win that is always just around the corner. The use of sound is equally confrontational: the dialogue is a sweary, overlapping barrage and the electronic score has an unsettling, twitchy quality.

Just as notable is the editing – it’s worth mentioning that editor Ronald Bronstein also co-wrote the picture with the Safdie brothers. The propulsive lurches and skittish pacing hammered out in the edit build the kind of tension that can only be relieved when someone dies.

Watch a trailer for Uncut Gems.


Wendy Ide

The GuardianTramp

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