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Josh Reviews Uncut Gems

February 17th, 2020
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In Uncut Gems, a fantastic film written and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie (the script was also co-written by Ronald Bronstein), Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner in the Diamond District in New York City.  He is buried in debts, but the fast-talking Howard has a series of plans within plans to get the better of everyone who is after him and to get a big payday.  It all revolves around an opal — a special, valuable rock — that Howard has recently acquired.  He plans to sell the opal at auction in order to score the money he needs to pay off his debts and finally hit the big time.  But it’s not going to be nearly as simple as Howard hopes…

Adam Sandler is absolutely electrifying in this film.  I have enjoyed Mr. Sandler’s previous turns in more serious films (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Funny People), but his work here is head and shoulders above anything I’ve ever seen him do before.  In Howard, Mr. Sandler has created a rich, unique, instantly memorable character.  Howard is a scum-bag, but Mr. Sandler plays the role with such empathy, and a twinkle in his eye, so that I found myself rooting for Howard throughout the film, even while cringing as he made one ill-advised decision after another.

The rest of the cast was super.  Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta) is Howard’s fast-talking equal as Demany, whose job seems to be finding big spenders and convincing them to come into howard’s store to spend a lot of money.  Idina Menzel is a study in frustration as Dinah, Howard’s much put-upon wife who seems like she might finally be ready to jettison him.  It was an unexpected surprise to see the great Judd Hirsch (looking a heck of a lot like Uncle Leo from Seinfeld) as Gooey, Howard’s well-off father-in-law.  Julia Fox plays Julia, the beautiful young woman working in Howard’s shop, with whom he is having an affair.  (I loved how important Julia wound up being in the film’s climax!)  Possibly the biggest surprise in the cast for me was just how great Kevin Garnett was, playing himself!  I appreciated how well-developed all of these people caught in Howard’s orbit were.

The film is a magnificent exercise in sustained tension.  From practically the first moment until the last, the Safdie brothers skillfully ratchet the tension up and up and up.  I can’t recall another film quite like this!  (Perhaps only certain extended sequences from Quentin Tarantino films.)  It’s an incredibly stressful experience watching this movie!!  And, at the same time, so much fun!!

A lot of credit for this must go to the spectacular and unusual cinematography by Darius Khondji.  The film has a dreamy, unreal look.  It’s like we’re caught in Howard’s waking nightmare of a life and, like him, we cannot escape.

Uncut Gems was one of my favorite films of 2019!!  It was an extraordinary experience, seeing this film in the theaters.  I highly recommend this film — but be prepared for what you’re getting yourself in to!

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