Jason Chapman, Editor-in-Chief
Photos courtesy of A24 by way of Google images
The Safdie Brothers new movie “Uncut Gems” is a motion picture unlike anything ever put onto the big screen before. Anxiety and uneasiness ooze from the screen. It’s fast-paced and features Adam Sandler in a performance only he could pull off.
Josh and Benny Safdie first attempted to make this movie 10 years ago but they weren’t able to get it off the ground. This was partly due to Adam Sandler turning down the project originally. “Uncut Gems” was then put on the backburner while the young filmmakers worked on refining their craft.
Over the past couple of years the Safdie Brothers have made indie favorites such as the gut-wrenching drug odyssey “Heaven Knows What” and the acid drenched adrenaline rush known as “Good Time.”
“Good Time” won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and put the filmmaking brothers on the large scale map. A certain recognizable style has begun to emerge from the siblings. If you’ve seen their movies you might be familiar with their technique of using intense telephoto close-ups, Altmanesque yet somehow slightly more chaotic dialogue and characters that you should not get along with but end up being moved by. Within the images is usually a break neck soundtrack that immerses you and only adds to the chaos that transpires on screen.
All of these different aspects of their films make for visionary moments that stick in your head. You’ll find yourself thinking about these situations, feelings and characters long after the movie is over.
Their new film “Uncut Gems” opens with a wide shot over top of an ethiopian mine. The mine has been cleared out because a worker’s leg has been injured. Two men enter the now empty mine and begin searching inside the claustrophobic open orifice of the Earth.
Soon they find what they are looking for, a gem. This gem they chip off of the wall is a large black opal. Within this large rock are many gems made up of many different beautiful colors. As they stand there holding it the camera begins to dive deep into the colorful gem and off we go.
After viewing the inner cosmic landscape of the gem for a short time the cavernous walls entrapping the space dust, ethiopian dirt and gem filled walls soon start to turn into a cave of flesh. The camera then slowly moves away from a display screen in a doctor’s office. The display is showing us the inside of Howard Ratner’s (played by Adam Sandler) colon. The doctor seems optimistic that there aren’t any problems and there Howard lies on the operating table fast asleep.
Gems are rare but so is Howie Bling. Howard is a jeweler in New York City’s diamond district. He is a man who doesn’t know what’s good for him. Mr. Ratner only knows what feels good. Risk after risk and game after game, Howard reaps the rewards that come along with the adrenaline highs from his gambling problem. As he descends further into debt the collectors start to come knocking.
Kevin Garnett, who plays himself, is perusing through Howard’s diamond shop one day. Soon he sets his eyes look upon the black opal diamond that was just delivered from Ethiopia. Garnett knows that he needs to have this gem. There’s something within this stone that’s going to give him power on the basketball court. From there the movie takes a turn and all hell breaks loose.
This movie revolves around gems. Not just the ones we can mine from the Earth but the gems that some people hold within themselves. There is a drive within Howard to keep going even as he falls out of grace with many people along the way. His marriage is failing. He doubts his mistress’s love for him, but there is a certain conviction within him to go for the gold every single time. Howard has a drive that is second to only Kevin Garnett’s, but then again it may be even more powerful of an ambition.
“Uncut Gems” has many moments when you’re hoping Howard will learn, and it’s not until the film’s end that you begin to realize who this character really is and what it is that he symbolizes. The Safdie Brothers have made a style of their own and it works. It makes you sit on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to happen next and that’s what the best movies do best.