Movie Review: Uncut Gems4th February 2020
After months of waiting, the teasing promotional trailers and consistent peddling of quotes from the film by starstruck fans, Uncut Gems has finally made its way to Netflix. It gives audiences across the world a chance to view the latest Safdie Brothers film, aside from those in America who, as usual, got to watch the film months ago in lovely looking cinemas with surround sound. I’ve been quite excited to see Adam Sandler’s return to the dramatic field of work. His foray into it previously with Paul Thomas Andersons Punch-Drunk Love crafted a personal favourite of mine, and I had high hopes for his Safdie collaboration.
These extremely high expectations coupled with word of mouth hype created an echo chamber like no other, one that has been built around the unanimous praise and hailing of the Safdie brothers. After their mainstream hit with Good Time, I found myself in the awkward position of being completely indifferent to their techno blazon style and editing choices. They bring this to the table once more in Uncut Gems, providing us with the ideals of if the system isn’t broken, then don’t fix it. Their work provides ample, formulaic choices that are guided under the guise and false pretence of tension.
My main issue with Uncut Gems is that its tension can’t muster anything more than brief interludes of excitement. The Safdie’s and Sandler work tirelessly to try and bring about a consistently striking tone for the film but, as mentioned, their style doesn’t get past a foundationally base level of interest for me. Intrinsic directing choices that follow Howard Ratner (Sandler) as he prepares to make the bet of a lifetime are skittered, with only a handful providing some genuinely engaging and entertaining pieces. Many of the scenes revolve around Ratner and the various subplots that litter his egregious interactions with his employees, family and friends.
What every audience member can agree on though is that of Sandler’s performance. Regardless of how much or little you take away from the film, there’s no denying how great a show Sandler gives us here. Ratner isn’t the most perfect of characters, the dialogue at times feels loose and lacking in impact, while the characters around him exude so little interest that I’m happy to be stuck with a mediocre Safdie creation than any of the other fools that work under or above him. Sandler brings it home in an essential performance for the few interested in his career. He plays well with some frankly dull cast members, lapping up the excitement that comes from breaking free of a career that is littered with comedic output. Seeing Sandler flex his impressive dramatic skills is by far the most entertaining aspect of the film, so it’s a shame to see the world and plot around him fall apart rather rapidly.
Ratner is the only character in the film that really observes a shift or change in his dynamic. It would’ve been nice to see a similar level of creative and depthful discussion around any of the other characters, but their one note, numerous appearances strive for nothing more than bolstering the enjoyability of Sandler’s striking role. Newcomer Julia Fox provides ample material for there to be expansions within her relationship to Ratner, but it’s simply not to be, and it looks for a way out in a rather ineffective and cliché manner. The ever talented Lakeith Stanfield also appears, but provides little of no interest in a performance that is underwhelming at best.
A stylish mess that blends the Safdie brother’s tokenism with a surprise role from Sandler, Uncut Gems is nothing more than that. It fails to work on its chemistry throughout, which is frankly underwhelming even at the most explosive and disorienting of times. Ratner is an unlikeable character, made somewhat tolerable solely by the chance to see Sandler in an enjoyable role. A real shame that this one doesn’t work as well as it should, but the bloated story and the surprising lack of development within the subplots makes Uncut Gems both an encapsulating creation and a completely forgettable affair.