Casual Rambling
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Casual Rambling

Movie Review: Uncut Gems

Rating: 2 and 1/2 Stars

from rogerebert.com

Most films have a typical trajectory. The film eases you in and introduces you to your characters and the world they exist in. A problem is revealed and events are set in motion in relation to said problem. More often then not there is some sort of resolution that leaves you satisfied, wanting more, or dissatisfied. So yea. That’s movies. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

from IMDB.com

There are almost always going to be highs and lows (unless your movie is terribly boring). Uncut Gems is one of those rare movies that never allows its characters a high. There’s no happiness to be had. Only pain and suffering. Every faint glimmer of hope that’s offered becomes painstakingly more obvious that whatever decision is going to be made, everything is going to go wrong. Uncut Gems is a downward spiral from start to finish.

I immediately thought of two movies specifically once Uncut Gems was over. Two Darren Aronofsky vehicles, his masterwork Requiem for a Dream, and Mother!.

Uncut Gems is more like Mother! then its like Requiem for a Dream. While they are all harrowing experiences that delve further and further into insanity, there’s a masterful balance in the pacing for Requiem for a Dream. Requiem is consistent and allows time to digest the story.

Uncut Gems is unnerving. Its soundtrack is jumbled purposefully from sci-fi space lore to modern hip hop to blues. Directors Benny and Josh Safdie never intend for the viewer to be comfortable. The film is cantankerous.

The film is centered around Adam Sandler of all people who you’ll remember from recent busts such as Pixels and Jack and Jill. His last arguable good movie? Grown Ups in 2010. Sandler is a comedy legend likened to his contemporaries, Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell. They either strike the perfect balance of low brow comedy with hilariously quotable films, or their work is a forgettable disaster. That’s the rub with comedy, either the film is funny or it's not. If your film is somewhat funny, it won’t get remembered as the hysterical ones do.

As time passes, I’m curious how moviegoers will talk about Sandler’s performance in Uncut Gems. There was a lot of praise for his role as Howard Ratner, a Jewish New York City diamond salesman. The Safdie’s along with writer Ronald Bronstein illustrate New York City’s diamond and betting industry underbelly.

Ratner sells jewels, borrows money, bets with his borrowed money, and then pays the consequences. That’s the whole cycle of the film. The consequences, when he’s not getting harassed or stuffed naked in his own trunk, is watching his relationship with his family crumble.

The appearance of having money and being able to swindle affords Ratner second, third, and fourth chances. But we all know the camel’s back eventually has to break.

Uncut Gems is unafraid to attack the unorthodox not only in the soundtrack but in cinematography and dialogue. Conversations happen in jumbled and garbled language. Most of it is unimportant, used only to substantiate the New York authenticity. Despite the inaudible nature of some of the dialogue, the tone of voice and body language sets the attitude.

The second scene of the movie is an inside look at a colonoscopy which I assume symbolizes that we’re about to watch an asshole at work. There’s also a strange scene in which Ratner spies on the hooker he’s having an affair with who loves Ratner for his money. That hooker is named Julia (Julia Fox), and she ends up playing a pivotal role in the finality of the film.

Some other major roles are occupied by Idina Menzel who plays Ratner’s wife. Insert she should’ve let it go joke here. LaKeith Stanfield continues to add more character acting roles to his growing resume. Former basketball star Kevin Garnett sees a significant role in the film. Every performance is strange to me as it all exists in this strange world the Safdie brothers have molded.

Judd Hirsch who you might know as an IMDB supporting role workhorse also snuck into this movie. Tilda Swinton way below the radar snuck a role in this film as well.

I will say this, Sandler embodies Ratner extremely well. Ratner is meant to be brutal and offputting, and Sandler owns it from start to finish. Sandler traps some cronies in a glass room that is the guarded entrance to his jewelry store where he forces them to watch a basketball game with him that he placed a huge bet on. The whole game Ratner is unbearable hanging on the balance of every moment and play. It’s not only that Ratner is a gambling addict, but he also lacks most social cues and skills. Sandler transforms his entire persona which deserves its just credit. Did that make the film an excellent watch for me? Not particularly. Some films are well made but ironically that can make them harder to enjoy. Uncut Gems falls in that category.

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