The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems is a genre-defying masterpiece that puts to trial the American dream and revels in the absurd beauty of movie making.
The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems opens with a pre-post-modernist anime-style tubular animated design. If this description sounds very confusing to say the least, don’t lose your minds. You probably won’t have to inject LSD into your cells to be able to get something out of the Brothers’ latest thriller – though that might be useful; but I’m not suggesting you should do that. Still, it might be worthwhile to put aside your genre preconceptions when it comes to the moving image. And just let your tired, catatonic brain waver along with the Safdies’ shifting visual alliances – with, of course, the traditional way of scriptwriting.
Uncut Gems stars a drooling Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, owner of a New York jewellery shop and former Jewish gem dealer on the rise. A small-time gambler, Howard’s been left with only his shirt on his back after pumping away all his money on his petty pastime. Moreover, he’s fighting a trench war with his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel): though their marriage has fallen apart, they keep living together for the sake of their children. At the same time, Howard enjoys the pleasurable company of his (much younger) lover-employee Julia (Julia Fox). Up to this point, it all feels like a story overtold. But that’s when the tubular Nintendo-like feeling strikes in.
In fact, Howard believes he’s finally found the solution to end all his troubles – which comprise huge debts to obscure mob gangs. He’s bought a real black beauty: a more than invaluable Ethiopian opal that he plans on auctioning for one million dollars. He’s one step away from achieving his goal, when a series of glitches drain-pierce his waterproof masterplan. That’s when the Brothers’ directing takes editing by the arm, wielding a frantic machine gun of cuts and hastening the film’s narrative pace to a syncope of rascal-like elegance. As a result, we lose track of time (both on and off the screen) and get enmeshed into a cruelly flawless diamond-shaped plot. And, oh, we love that. Holy cow, every frame is so, damn, absurd.
At its core, Uncut Gems is a thriller without being concerned with finding the culprit; a comedy that never strikes a joke; a parable of redemption that’s not preoccupied with the soul. It’s an intellectually hectic movie – something that only someone from The Big Apple like the Safdies could have conceived. Uncut Gems is so useless that it hurts, and so dauntingly meaningful that we feel overwhelmed. So yes, I’m positive there’s a message the Brothers want us to understand, and, obviously, I won’t be spoiling your fun by giving that away. Think of Darius Khondji (BAFTA and Academy Award nominee for Evita in 1997)’s cinematography though. Think of its window-shopping hue, and of the razor-blade contrasts between what happens in total, Caravaggesque darkness and what is presented under these distraught artificial lights. And don’t ever think of the last Oscars.
Because yes, Uncut Gems might have deserved a couple of nominations – I’d personally root for Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay, even though the acting was syrupy & pungent to perfection. Still, what this film can be best described as, is satire. After all, a colonoscopy strikes the screen right after its infamous tubular opening (and that’s no spoiler). It is refined to the point of bewitching trash. The academy probably didn’t get it. nor did they get the exquisite poetry of having The Weeknd roughed around. Could we ever forgive them?
Uncut Gems is now available to watch on digital and on demand.