Uncut Gems (2019)

A white-knuckle crime thriller by the Safdie Brothers x A24 that kaleidoscopically takes a jeweler’s lens to sports gambling, race, masculinity, capitalism, & Biblical sin with a coup-de-maître Oneohtrix score & Oscar-pedigree Sandler performance. 8.8/10.

Plot Synopsis: A charismatic jeweler makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Review

Adam Sandler

What Happens When The Laughing Stock Of The Film Industry Gets Fed Up With The Jokes?

Jack & Jill. Grown Ups. Pixels. The Zohan. The Waterboy. Coneheads. Reign Over Me. Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The incessant cries for help of one of the worst filmographies ever to (dis)grace the screen can be heard ringing from the depths of the industry’s PSTD-riddled psyche. It’s become almost a running-joke in Hollywood: how will Sandler make an even worse movie this time?! We always wondered why Mr. Sandler never just said: ‘ENOUGH! I’m going to make a movie so good, it will stop the jokes at my expense forever.’ Sure, money’s nice – but a cheap thrill that quickly wears in the face of legacy and field accomplishments. Whatever the reason that finally convinced & converted him to do a project like this, Adam Sandler is here to play ball.. and he’s here with a *vengeance*. In fact, he might’ve just gone from making some of the worst films of All-Time.. to an OSCAR-level performance – in one of the most startling 180’s of the year. A white-knuckle crime thriller by the Safdie Brothers x A24 that kaleidoscopically takes a jeweler’s lens to sports gambling, race, masculinity, capitalism, & Biblical sin – with a coup-de-maître electronica score & shocking *OSCAR*-pedigree lead performance, Uncut Gems is one of the best films of 2019.. and might stop Adam Sandler-jokes forever.

The VFX, Setting, & Safdie Brothers’ Energy-Riddled, Auterist Signature Stylism

One thing that’s for damn sure from the opening sequence: this is without doubt a Safdie Brothers film. The prodigious duo made waves with their 2017 directorial debut Good Time, which featured Ben as the brother of now-arthouse icon & Batman Robert Pattinson in an electrifying biopic/crime thriller that was so good, it nearly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. They’re back with a pep in their step, experience, and their signature dizzying, acid-trip, disorientative, energy-dripping auteurist style – and it’s glorious to behold unlike anything else in the movie industry right now. A fresh addition to their surgeon’s tools to work with are a massive budget and spectacular VFX to do everything from microscopic->macroscopic transitions and painting the entire universe as a play on the visual allure of gems and jewelry, this time found dichotomously on the grimey, ruthless Diamond District concrete jungle setting for the anxious tale.

A Coup-De-Maître Electronica, Synthy, Disorientative Oneohtrix Score

The Best Score Of 2019

Uncut Gems might have one of the greatest cinematic scores I’ve ever heard in my entire life & filmic tenure. An ecstasy-bursting, disorientative, synthy masterstroke by Oneohtrix Point Never that traverses everything from high-octave opulent electronica cascades to lowdown blip arpeggios feeling straight out of Super Mario GBA’s, it is one of the most peculiar, idiosyncratic, original, innovative pieces I’ve ever heard – and I can’t get it out of my head. What’s a signature hallmark of the Safdie Brothers’ style we saw glimpses of in Good Time is elevated to another level here, feeling like you’re given a hit of heroin or drugged altogether with the VFX for an unparalleled sensory experience; the score also serving as a crux for establishing the film’s ritzy flair & energy-dripping freneticism throughout.

From Razzies To Oscars

A Jaw-Dropping Performance By Adam Sandler Showcasing (Criminally-Hidden) Acting Chops

I cannot believe I’m going to say this, but: Adam Sandler might have just given an OSCAR-level performance. Ah, the days of laughing at the unspeakable idiocy of say a Jack & Jill or Grown Ups are – apparently – gone; A.S. has had enough of the jokes and is on a mission to silence his critics. A bronx-swanky tough guy with a chip on his shoulder as reminiscent of De Niro in Taxi Driver – but given his own Jewish, materialistic jeweler’s flair, Sandler’s take on Howie is absolutely sensational – together with the screenplay fleshing this realistic, fascinating character indicative of several society trends today so well, you feel like you could’ve just passed him on the street earlier.. and become immensely invested in his story that makes the film’s ending hit even harder. While Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker still edges him out handedly for Best Actor being unparalleled in difficulty, pressure, character innovation, and theatricality, Adam Sandler just went from rags-to-riches, Razzies-to-Oscar-invitations – easily the best performance of his (otherwise archaic-looking) career and one of the best of 2019.

A Jeweler’s Lens To Masculinity, Race, Capitalism, & Biblical Greed Through The Brilliant, Thrilling Guise Of Sports Gambling

Themes of masculinity, race, capitalism, & Biblical greed are given a jeweler’s eyepiece through the lens of sports gambling in U.C.’s *brilliant* screenplay. Everyone involved is incapacitated by their own materialism and greed – letting jewels and money play them like puppets or cokeheads in everlasting search of a bigger fix. The film artfully portrays a lot of the drug-like high of gambling and casinos people get hooked to enough to lose everything, fitting in a race study too with Howie being Jewish and many of the clients being African-American or Middle-Eastern/Indian: all races with chips on their shoulders, tragic backstories, and coming from mostly-improverished homelands to positions of incredible wealth they know not sometimes what to fully – and responsibly – do with it. Kanye West touched on some of these themes in his 2013 song ‘New Slaves’ – how his race (and many others) is so determined to show flashy proof of success after coming from nothing, they’re almost more perceptible to the temptations of sin, capitalism, and overspending into debt enough to become self-induced slaves to the system & their own devices of indentured servitude with potentially catastrophic results.

A Tragic Tale Mired In Human Drama, Emotional Gravitas, & Crime Underworlds

The screenplay plays off this idea too, with Howie saying the rush he gets from gambling and why he keeps doing it time & again is that he’s ‘tired of people counting him out (by race),’ and ‘this is how he wins and proves them wrong’. Even as his life is falling apart at the seams in every conceivable facet from debt to sharks closing in to marriage to girlfriends, he keeps playing like an insatiable junkie fixated on his next fix. Eventually, his luck runs out as he gets in too deep such that the inevitable finally happens, mercilessly killed in cruel-ironicism just when he would have finally won big on that Game 7 KG bet. Tragic. Masculinity is also dissected in that Howie is pressured to provide for his (spoiled brat) family, keep his anxiety and concerns from them as conditioned by a society who tells men to keep it bottled up or to themselves, and pride to compete with others and especially people who look down or condescend him by factors like race, age, & appearance to show them he’s not a loser and can succeed.

Major Cameos

Finally, the superstar cameos present in Uncut Gems give the film a pop value and entertainment flair that will set any sports, music, or celebrity fan ablaze. The Weeknd and Kevin Garnett are the most notable presences – both also showcasing some surprising acting potential being crucial parts of the story: The Weeknd tempting Howie’s side-piece Julia to cheat and Kevin Garnett being arguably the main supporting role of the film in his obsession with the opal feeling mystical connection in pursuit of it. The rest of the supporting cast does phenomenally as well – especially Lakeith Stanfield building quite a filmic reservoir with another strong performance as the two-faced client-scouting assistant Demany, Julia Fox’s psychologically-bizarre Julia, Idina Menzel’s estranged wife who hates Howie’s guts & is just salivating at the prospect of divorce, & the sharks giving inspired takes that make you truly afraid of them as much as Howie is.

Flaws

An (Admittedly)-Cacophonous Canvas

Flaws in Uncut Gems largely center on the fact that it is admittedly a cacophonous canvas. While a part of the Safdie brothers’ style, it is far more pronounced than in Good Time and can get downright-headache inducing in parts hearing people talk over each other endlessly for minutes in juxtaposed conversations. I don’t get why the sound editors and Safdies didn’t tighten the control and fine-tune it a bit – no one wants to just hear an assault of overlapping conversations and noise thrown at them pretty consistently through the film. While the rest of the film’s masterpiece intangibles easily make up for this one transgression 10x over filmically, it is a problem and one that does detract from the overall experience.

Conclusion

One Of The Best Films Of 2019

A White-Knuckle Crime Thriller By The Safdie Brothers x A24 That Might’ve Just Ended Adam Sandler-Jokes. For Good.

The days of laughing at Adam Sandler are over with Uncut Gems. The Safdie Brothers have cemented themselves as some of the greatest up-and-coming talents-to-watch in the moviemaking industry with a one-two punch of visceral, electronica, energy-riddled crime thrillers in Good Time and U.C. – also managing to take two actors previously down-on-their-luck and estranged by the film community in (post-Twilight) Robert Pattinson & Sandler, and give them a fresh canvas to reboot and showcase true acting talent on. A white-knuckle crime thriller by the Safdie Brothers x A24 that kaleidoscopically takes a jeweler’s lens to sports gambling, race, masculinity, capitalism, & Biblical sin – with a coup-de-maître electronica score & jaw-dropping, *OSCAR*-pedigree lead performance, Uncut Gems is one of the best films of 2019 and one of our new favorite crime thrillers of the decade.

Official CLC Score: 8.8/10