“Uncut Gems” is exhausting. It’s an intense film— one that never gives you a break. I felt tired after watching it. I mean this as a compliment.
The story, written and directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, follows Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jeweler in New York City with a gambling addiction. He owes money to everybody, including a loan shark. The loan shark may be a pushover, but his enforcers aren’t.
Howard is always betting money on the next basketball game. And his solution to his problems is to take another risk, even if that risk is outside of sports betting. He just has to gamble, even when he doesn’t have to.
Despite his reputation in goofy comedies, Sandler has appeared in more dramatic films in the past with “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” “Punch Drunk Love” and “Funny People.” Here, he is amazing as Howard. He plays a guy who is always smiling and telling jokes, yet he’s not happy. What makes his addiction worse isn’t that he is a bad gambler, but that he’s a good one. He can win, but this just gives him the confidence to keep betting. Even when he wins, he still loses.
The way this film is shot, with its extreme close-ups, long takes, and invisible editing, gives you the perspective of a fly on the wall, watching everything as it really happens. It’s made to have a dream-like atmosphere, but this movie can also feel very life-like. Thanks to the acting, directing and camera work, when people yell at each other, it feels like a real interaction. The kind you would see in a club or on the street. You are like the side characters and extras in the background, watching awkwardly as it plays out. Like you would in real life.
There are times when you will be confused during an argument by the shaky camera and shifting camera angles. It can be hard to figure out what is going on and it can make you feel uncomfortable. But that’s how it would feel in real life, and it’s how the characters in the scene feel as well.
The violence also feels real. Most of the time, films use violence so often that is loses it wieght and impact. In “Uncut Gems,” it only appears briefly. But when it does, it can be shocking.
One flaw in the film may be that Howard isn’t a very likeable character. We do get moments where we feel for him, but not many. For the most part, we watch as he lies, steals, uses people that are close to him, and makes mistakes. You feel more for the people around him, for the people that love him. (Or at least claim to.)
Even the “flaws” in this film are motivated, though. Like the jarring camerawork, Ratner’s unlikable persona serves a purpose. You’re not supposed to like Howard’s actions. The film is very honest in its portrayal of the bad things he does. The film’s script creates a very believable character in Howard Ratner, and Sandler’s performance adds to this realism. The same goes for the other characters.
This movie is fantastic at creating a compelling cast of characters, whether they are major or minor. They are presented in ways that make them feel complete, even if they only appear for a few minutes. A few of them are even playing fictional versions of themselves, such as basketball player Kevin Garnett, which further adds to the realism.
“Uncut Gems” takes you on a wild ride and never lets up. You don’t need to be from the bustling streets of New York City to relate to its story. I’m from a small town in Missouri, but still got sucked in. That’s what makes “Uncut Gems” such a great movie.