Uncut Gems Review The Buff and The Blazer
If there’s one criticism you could make about Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems, it’s that it makes you physically ill. Not ill in the sense that the film is terribly made or embarrassing to watch. On the contrary, the film-making is masterful. Uncut Gems makes you feel ill because that’s exactly what the filmmakers intended. The tension, suspense and stakes of the film are so high and brilliantly conveyed, that they easily cause one to feel sick after first viewing.
Uncut Gems is a masterclass in traditional filmic storytelling. It’s almost Hitchcockian in that sense. Story, dialogue, cinematography, editing, score etc., all come together in a proverbial soup that drips extreme unease. Many scenes in the film are awkward and uncomfortably slow to develop. It all builds and adds to a feeling of pressure and claustrophobia. On top of that, include a wonderful cast of top-notch actors’ spear-headed by Adam Sandler, and you get a film that was deservedly in the Oscar discussions.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Adam Sandler’s performance as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems is by far, one of the best in his career. Sandler does a great job in selling the persona of someone who is in way over his head, but oblivious to the dangers and stakes. By the end of the film, his acting chops are on full display and he bursts with emotion after being crushed by the weight of his bad decisions. Julia Fox, a relative newcomer in the acting world, is another actor worth noting in Uncut Gems. Her performance as Julia is multi-layered and she evolves as a character as the film develops. At first, you get the sense that she is simply Howard’s extremely attractive squeeze, with no real depth. As the story progresses, the audience sees the extent of her affection for Howard and Julia’s performance sells the sincerity of those emotions. Even though the circumstances for Howard and Julia’s relationship are unfortunate, the performances by Sandler and Fox have you rooting for them.
The technical aspects of the film cannot be understated. The shots and the editing of Uncut Gems heighten the tension and suspense of the film. At times, the editing defers to longer shots. Other times, the editing is fast-pace and frantic. There are also some interesting contrasts in imagery, particularly in the beginning of the film. A title sequence begins on the inside of an Opal. We see the crystalline structures of the inner stone underneath the titles. The shot then transitions from the inside of the opal to the inside of Howards colon, and we find that he is having a colonoscopy. Choices like these, that appear to have little to no connection visually, are an effective means for creating a sense of discomfort and shock. Some of the shot compositions also add to the discomfort and claustrophobic feeling of the film. Certain scenes are shot with extreme closeups, and the imagery within the frame is squashed and compressed, making it visually uncomfortable to watch.
Finally, and perhaps the most important factor for creating a sense of unease and suspense in Uncut Gems is its premise. The film submerges the audience into the chasm of gambling addiction. It shows how deep the holes can get and how high the stakes can be, when someone is consumed by gambling. In the film, Howard is oblivious to the real trouble he is in after making a string of bad gambling choices. It’s the thrill of the big win, that causes him to lose perspective on the dangers of his actions. Just when you think his luck is finally turning out for the better, the harsh reality of gambling addiction rears its ugly head. The masterful film-making and storytelling of Uncut Gems make it a worthy watch. But whether you can handle a second viewing or not, is another question entirely.
Uncut Gems is available on digital 2/25 and DVD/Blu-ray 3/10.
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