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Uncut Gems (2019) Review: Breathless Experience!

Black and white poster of Uncut Gems featuring Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, his hand reaching towards his face with a nosebleed, with "Uncut Gems" written in text.

Thanks to their success with Good Time, Josh and Benny Safdie got the chance to realize this project they had been working on for ten years. They continue to do what they know best, bringing one of New York’s current subcultures to the big screen. The film, which is distributed by A24 and Netflix, is about the struggle of gambling addicted jeweler Howard Ratner to solve the problems in his family and business life. Adam Sandler, whom we are used to seeing in comedies, has reached the pinnacle of his acting career by exceeding the bar he set with Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson). While Sandler was accompanied by names such as Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel and Kevin Garnett, Julia Fox stood out among the character actors that the Safdie Brothers always managed to achieve maximum efficiency.

Uncut Gems, a film that is strong enough to stun and tire its audience with the stress it causes, has its name written in gold letters decorated with jewels among the best productions of 2019.

Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems, depicted with his back turned, seemingly engaged in conversation with someone on the left.

Howard Ratner is a jeweler on the verge of divorce due to his gambling addiction. He tries to improve his financial situation by selling the black opali he had smuggled from Ethiopia to star basketball player Kevin Garnett. On the other hand, he is dealing with his brother-in-law, who is trying to collect his debts through gangsters. In this process, succumbing to the desire to make a big hit, the wrong choices he makes repeatedly will bring Howard to a point where he cannot avoid facing the consequences.

The Safdie Brothers have accomplished a task that reinforcing the eclectic identity of their filmography as a whole, in Uncut Gems, by bringing together various elements that are striking in their previous projects with great skill. From this point of view, it would not be wrong to claim that the film will be referred to as the production in which young filmmakers stepped into mastery in the future. The irresponsible, childish and unfortunate middle-aged man portrait in Daddy Longlegs, their first feature film starring their permanent screenwriter Ronald Bronstein, appears here as Howard Ratner. Heaven Knows What had a camera that allowed for the cultural representation of drug addicts as a particular socioeconomic group. This time the camera is focused on the Jews who are engaged in the jewelery trade. The feverish rush of unrest created by illegitimate work also remains in Good Time.

In order to properly evaluate these stylized cinematic approaches that permeate all the films of the Safdie Brothers, it is necessary to take a look at the sources of inspiration. For example, it is no coincidence that the producer of Uncut Gems is Martin Scorsese. Just like their fellow countrymen, they make New York the most important part of their films, not just as a setting but almost as a character. It is even possible to say that the brothers are the most ambitious candidates for the throne of Scorsese in New York. Abel Ferrara, who also played a small role in Daddy Longlegs, is another name that influenced the brothers in this context. The cinéma vérité inspirations felt in their filmography owes its existence to John Cassavetes, the greatest representative of this movement in American cinema. Safdieler, who likes to use real people with personal characteristics that match the characters instead of working with completely professional actors, gives an authentic atmosphere to the story they tell by putting the jewelers working in the Manhattan Diamond District in front of the camera as well as the famous names who play themselves such as Kevin Garnett and The Weekend in Uncut Gems. they add. Thus, the film, which is fed by the originality of the places used and the characters described, leaves an organic taste on the palate of the audience.

Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems, captivated by the gem in his hand.

However, Uncut Gems actually presents a detailed character analysis of Howard Ratner, one of the most disturbing men we’ve ever met, as his wife points out in a scene. The tempo and rhythm of the movie are determined in parallel with the mood shaped by the situations the main character is in. Therefore, we seem to be witnessing a panic attack that lasted for two hours on this journey where Howard is ready to derail at any moment. In this respect, Uncut Gems is a frustrating, disturbing and stressful film that attacks the audio-visual senses of the audience. Howard’s life is like a never-ending race on a square track where he has to run nonstop to avoid falling, he has to constantly turn the corner, he’s always on the edge. There is also a great similarity between Howard and the stunning black opal he obtained illegally from Ethiopian mines. Both owe their impressiveness to the enormous pressure they are subjected to. Moreover, the wrong choices made due to gambling addiction are not the only reason for this pressure. The impact of the culture of competition created by neoliberal economic policies in the process of globalization on the individual is expressed in the legendary tirade, in which Howard explains to Kevin Garnett how he earned his living. The historical background of this effect, on the other hand, gains visuality through some images gushing out of the black opaline.

Adam Sandler’s hysterical acting with unexpected nuances successfully conveys the remarkable message of the film to the audience. It also makes Howard Ratner one of the unforgettable characters in the history of cinema. The fact that Safdie Brothers wrote the script for the lead role, especially with Sandler in mind, must be one of the biggest factors that revealed this magnificent performance.

The movie, which nailed the tired audience with its unstoppable pace from beginning to end, with its unpredictable finale, is a show of strength that will not be easily forgotten. It was annoying that the film, which unquestionably deserved its place among the best productions of the year, was ignored by the Academy. Still, it’s not surprising when you remember that even the Safdie Brothers idol, Martin Scorsese, waited forty years to win his first and only Oscar.

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Last modified: July 8, 2023