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3 ½ (out of 4)
The raw vigor of the Safdie Brothers’ electric touch and Adam Sandler’s own inscrutable moxie amounts to a lustrous, New Hollywood-esque cinematic combo. The brothers drafted the screenplay with Sandler in mind early in their career, only securing the comedy legend at their Award circuit rounds a few years ago.
It’s a karmic cautionary tale about tempting fate, or at least trying to master it – like Good Time the movie is one extended tiptoe on the verge of a nervous breakdown, an actual adrenaline rush of hallucinatory colors, restless, grainy camerawork and getting caught up in the momentary hoopla of an ominous comedy-of-errors situation from hell. Uncut Gems just has a stronger sense of the dance of dialogue in the wheeling and dealing, in the congealing of monetary and existential crises, all built for sheer entertainment with a dense, overlapping structure. Like Heaven Knows What, the Safdie duo take their lowlife lead characters at face value sans condescension until their addictions – heroine, gambling, what have you – become our own concerns, thrills and despairs.
Their propensity for coarse naturalism has rarely been so convincing or visceral and Sandler just happens to be the most magnetic talent they’ve thus acquired. Actually Robert Pattinson probably has the Sand-man topped in his growing independent body of work (not to mention donning that crusading cape for Warner Brothers soon enough) but this is probably Sandler's best performance ever. Creeping out of the financial security of his most idiotic affairs to prove his range once per decade, this turn supersedes Judd Apatow's strong Funny People by miles and Uncut Gems exceeds even Punch-Drunk Love as his most well-suited, crowning dramatic turn, a perfectly written and performed movie character. Whether or not you have an opinion on Sandler's sea of silliness outside excused little classics like Happy Gilmore, this has virtually nothing in common with the Big Daddy's, Anger Management's or Jack and Jill's of the past.
Burnished in every frame with slippery splendor and scrappy intensity, Uncut Gems is at least one of the great films of the year and maybe up their in the best of the decade. It’s the faultless consummation of a rapidly arresting career, of a distinct, tangy busyness and distress. If the ending seems like a copout consider the story with Hollywood thinkgroups in mind and you have a cheap, ill-defined fantasy rather than an adventurous existential warning. It’s a thriller that’s lets you have your cake and eat it too, unlike the potent but thematically flawed Mississippi Grind.
Howard may be a loathesome charlatan at heart but the Safdies have no difficulty in relating his own subjectivity to the universal, turning his bad luck and impulsive strokes of genius into the balancing act of life, played out like some coked up Monopoly game. The performances, including involved acting debuts by Kevin Garnett and The Weeknd, boast extreme, effective realism. The score by electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never is retro-future heaven and simultaneously a second brilliant collaboration between the Safdies and Daniel Lapotin, dropping the OPN alias. The seedy, surreal world of New York jewelers, based on the profession of the film-duo's own father as well as their proud Jewish heritage terrifically believable dialogues before the more terrifying confrontations.
From the hallucinatory bookends to the urgent questions of character and ethics, Uncut Gems is the kind of potential future classic that will more than likely stand above some awards season ignorance, especially as A24's highest grossing release so far.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Invisible Man
and overdue takes on
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice