I don’t think anybody can ever be remotely ready for a film by the Safdie brothers. We might make an exception if you’ve already seen the film, but let’s make it clear, Good Time does not become an easier watch on a second watch and I can’t imagine the same being the case with their Adam Sandler led film Uncut Gems.
Uncut Gems is a film that takes place in the diamond district of New York, as Safdie’s films typically do, and it follows a jeweller named Howard Ratner (Sandler) and it follows him through a few days of his life. He is being tracked down by two men who constantly threaten his existence as Howard owes a lot of money to Arno (Eric Bogosian). But before Howard acts very irresponsible with his money, he finds out about the stones that can be found by Ethiopians. And he purchases one rock with an opal stone lodged in it. Howard buys it, and plans to sell it through an auction and will make a massive profit. Or so is the plan.
Enter NBA championship winner Kevin Garnett (Kevin Garnett) and a close friend (and occasional partner with Howard) Demany, played by LaKeith Stanfield. And thus, brings his work and his money issues more problems than he already needed. So while his marriage to Dina (Idina Menzel) crumbles, so does his life.
Kevin Garnett borrows the stone as he clearly has a personal connection to it. And it may be due to where the stone is from. It seems like Howard and Kevin have their own connections to the stone that makes them nearly obsessed with it. At one point, Howard says that the mineworkers who excavated the gems were Black Jews.
So in Safdie tradition, we are given a never-ending thrill ride of mistakes and fuck-ups that is absolutely exhilarating to witness unfold. The truth is, it’s hard not to get upset when watching a character like Howard continuously mess up, but at the same time, it makes for wonderful drama and cinema. The script is written by both brothers and friend of theirs Ronald Bronstein who has helped write films alongside Josh and Benny.
These are not great characters – they’re all wonderfully flawed and it sometimes makes for an uncomfortable watch. You wish these characters would be smarter but they aren’t, so as a viewer, you cringe and slide around your seats as your forced to stay seated. And it is a film that needs to be watched on the big screen. Shot on film, it was glorious and the music looms over you and jolts you awake. My screening was at 1030 in the morning, and as the brothers said themselves, it’s like the perfect cup of coffee that might also physically shake you as well.
The film feels like it meanders, but it meanders with purpose. Or it feels like it does. It’s as if somehow the Safdie brothers have found a way to have contained chaos.