Quarantine Film Diary – Day 15 – Uncut Gems

Stuck in the Czech Republic as a result of a travel ban announced after the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I watch one random film a day until the travel ban is lifted to keep some of my sanity intact.

Despite the sub-par comedies he made millions with, I have always been a believer. I always knew that Adam Sandler had some real acting talent. In Uncut Gems, he unleashes said talent wholly for the first time, arguably, since Punch Drunk Love. Of course, the fact that this project is helmed by two of contemporary cinema’s brightest auteurs, Josh and Benny Safdie, helps.

Here, Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a New York City Jewish jeweler and gambling addict. From the start, we understand that he is self-destructive and out of control. His life is falling apart. Havinng accumulated incredible debts, he has bookies and gangsters breathing down his neck and threatening his life constantly. To make matters worse, his private life is equally disastrous.

His only hope lies in a mysterious Ethiopian opal, which he estimates is worth at least a million dollars. However, after lending it to a star basketball player who believes it to have true magic powers, Ratner struggles to retrieve it, which makes his situation worse. His attempts at retrieving the gem actually form the backbone of the narrative structure of Uncut Gems, which takes place over the course of a few days.

Previous films by the Safdies have been defined by incredible intensity; the same can be said about Uncut Gems, which grabs the viewer from the start and packs a real punch for its entire duration, giving little chance to breathe. Very often, the scenes are chaotic, sometimes to the point where it is difficult to understand the dialogue. Furthermore, the camera, with its compositions and movements, add a sense of urgency that make the film seem like a ticking time-bomb that could explode at any minute.

Because the entire film focuses on Ratner, a lot of the film’s power rests on the shoulders of its leading man. Sandler’s performance is the embodiment of obsession; despite the hellish situation he finds himself in, we know by the way he carries on that deep down, he loves and lives for this. The Safdies have previously exhibited an interest in addiction and antiheroes, and their characters are sometimes downright difficult to side with. Casting Sandler helps the viewer side with Ratner and, despite his obvious obnoxiousness, it’s hard not to want to see this creepy loser get his comeuppance.

UNCUT GEMS | Director – Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie | Writer – Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie | Starring – Adam Sandler | USA | 2019

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