One of these intrepid critic’s worst nightmares in being trapped in the grasp a snake and crushed to death or bitten by the said reptile. Whether python, boa constrictor, simple grass snake, whatever it is, the terror it creates in my chest and the surging anxiety it brings to my life on a daily basis is sometimes too much to bear. Films and sitting in a cinema was always my refuge, my happy place and whatever was going in life, snakes phobias or anxieties, in general, were cast aside.
Then I saw Uncut Gems and that safe feeling was firmly and utterly upended in one of the tensest, anxiety-driven, almost claustrophobic cinema experiences in my lifetime and will probably never been equalled. But dammit if it wasn’t absolutely glorious.
The film follows a few days in the life of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a jeweler in New York City with his own store in the aptly named Diamond District who is desperately clinging onto his livelihood as his addictions are beginning to overpower his already fractured daily life. Living with his mistress Julia (Julia Fox) whilst still trying to be a father to his children despite his separation from his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), Howard’s gambling addictions are spiralling beyond his control and the sharks are circling, not least Arlo (Eric Bogosian) who he owes $100,000. Howard, though, feels his luck is about to change after a two-year search to track down a rare black opal, an “uncut gem”, one that could be worth millions.
The latest from the minds of brothers Safdie (Josh and Benny), who brought us 2016’s superb thriller Good Time, Uncut Gems has all the hallmarks of the directors work thus far – tension, thrills, frenetics, flawed characters and brilliantly-timed humour – and feels like their most assured work yet. There’s a definitive maturity to the film with the duo supremely in control of the frantic, animated story they are telling and in other filmmakers’ hands it could have gotten away from them, but not the Safdies. Like the perfectly constructed gems that flow through the film, the Safdie’s latest is a kaleidoscopic, thrilling and wonderfully cut creation – and they have an ace in the hole in the brilliant Sandler.
Going through something of a career funk in recent years which has seen him make his last few films for Netflix (who carry this one in many international territories, including the UK), it’s most welcome to see Sandler not just back on the big screen but finding him in somewhat unfamiliar territory even though Howard as a character plays to his comic strengths more than it may initially seem. A fireball of emotions, Sandler revels in the Safdies’ world and the dynamics between actor and filmmaker are abundant and absolute perfection, more so that the actor’s collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson nearly two decades ago. Fans may want the juvenile, manchild jokester back but if he continues in this vein, Sandler may well have found his mojo once again.
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Crime, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 10th January 2020 (UK Cinema), 31st January 2020 (Netflix) | Netflix | Dir.Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie | Adam Sandler,Lakeith Stanfield,Julia Fox,Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian