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Uncut Gems Movie Review

Unpolished 'Gems'

Martin Scorsese's name has been thrown around a lot this year, but it truly is worth bringing up once again to describe the grungy atmosphere captured in "Uncut Gems." Directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie bring their chaotic style to their follow-up to 2017's excellent "Good Time," which echoes the mood of "After Hours," one of the great movies on Scorsese's B-side. Besides the obvious comparisons, the Safdie Bros. have created a definitive voice in American independent film and while "Uncut Gems" is a bit of an unwieldy beast, it leaves an impression - for better or for worse.


Adam Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a jeweler in Manhattan's Diamond District. He's always on the go, moving with enough energy to assume caffeine runs through his veins throughout the day. Between managing his shop, making deals, placing bets and half-heartedly checking in on his family, Howard has more going on in a day than most can handle.

Howard simultaneously walks around Manhattan with a pocket full of cash at most times but never has any money. He owes everyone in his life some debt. He's hopeful that his problems will be solved when he purchases an Ethiopian opal, worth a debt-clearing amount of money. His new prized possession is set for auction but basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) is interested in purchasing the opal. It doesn't matter how good the deal is; Howard is always looking for something better.

The Safdie Bros. are undoubtedly skilled at building tension, as shown in the run all night "Good Time," but mileage may vary on "Uncut Gems." The movie is overwhelming and panic-inducing, as intended, but it waffles between effective and grating. Why should we root for Howard? He's the cause of all his problems, and going on a 135-minute panic attack with him doesn't always seem worth it.

Even so, Sandler is dedicated to his performance. Forever the frustrating movie star, Sandler spends so much time on lazy filmed vacations under his Happy Madison production banner that it often seems like an event when he turns in a multi-dimensional performance. His wide-eyed, rabid commitment to Howard portrays the character's pathetic desperation as he tries to settle his scores, but his best moment is one of the rare quiet ones in the movie. Sandler pleads with his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), who has had enough of his lies and cheating; Howard promises that his affair with his employee Julia (Julia Fox) means nothing, meant nothing, and will never mean anything. In that moment, everything else fades away.

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"Uncut Gems" could have benefited from a bit of a trim off its runtime, in order to make a more compact journey through Manhattan. There's a plot detour, featuring The Weeknd (who also plays himself), which doesn't add anything to the movie. It's a distraction and feels like an attempt by the Safdie Bros. to keep piling on Howard's already lengthy list of problems. The entire sequence stops the movie in its tracks.

It's hard to completely write off something that gets under your skin the way "Uncut Gems" does, but it feels a bit more uneven than the directors' previous efforts. Sandler fans will get an absolute thrill watching the actor translate his manic persona to something like this, so "Uncut Gems" is likely to find a decent arthouse audience. You just might need an Advil after.


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About Udara Madusanka

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