Movie Review | Uncut Gems
Movie summary: A charismatic New York City jeweller always on the lookout for the next big score makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win. (IMDb)
There was a lot of buzz around Uncut Gems and awards season, with many shocked that it was completely overlooked by the Oscars. Having now seen the movie, I can understand why it missed out on most awards, although I would agree that Adam Sandler should've been at least nominated for his performance as Howard Ratner.
This movie quite often feels like a mess, even if this also feels a like a deliberate creative choice by the writer/director team of the Safdie brothers and their co-writer, Ronald Bronstein. The reason that it doesn't quite work for me is that there are other films I've seen that have felt just as hectic and chaotic as what we see on-screen here, but never quite losing themselves in the anarchy.
The centre of the storm is Sandler, who puts in the best performance I've ever seen from him. I'll admit that the start of the movie was difficult to get into because of Sandler's comedy image carrying over, but he is so convincing as Ratner that you very quickly forget all that and accept him as the character he's playing, which is one hell of an achievement for someone often looked down on by most.
LaKeith Stanfield also stands out as Demany, who 'works' with Ratner, even if they come from entirely different worlds and move in such contrasting circles that you wonder how they ever struck up any kind of working partnership at all. Stanfield, like Sandler, makes you forget his other roles and completely vanishes into character, actually making me have to remind myself more than once that this wasn't some uber-talented newcomer.
The actual talented newcomer here is Julia Fox as Ratner's 'mistress', Julia. For me, she was the most likeable character in Uncut Gems and her role felt like it served a very similar purpose to Lily James in Baby Driver by helping to humanise Ratner and make us like him more by virtue of the fact that this women likes him so much - even if it's never really explained why she does.
The plot is pretty routine, with a small-time schemer trying to keep everyone off his back long enough to get the one big win he feels like he deserves, and there's nothing here to really add anything of any extra value to that basic premise outside of the outstanding performances mentioned above. It's not poorly done by any means, but - the very ending aside - there's not much to surprise here.
As for that ending, I'm going to avoid spoilers as best I can, but it really does feel like it comes from nowhere. I'm sure plenty will disagree, saying that the movie has been building up to it all the time, but it just didn't feel earned to me. It ultimately deflated Uncut Gems a little for me, literally like a puncture draining the air out of an inflatable and leaving a limp mess behind.
It's not helped by Ratner - on at least two occasions - making decisions that seem to be plot-motivated rather than something the character would do. There's one near the end that actually sets up the finale that made me sigh, feeling that it was only done to extend the movie's running time rather than because it made sense for it to happen.
In truth, Uncut Gems biggest problem isn't anything mentioned so far, but something that being on Netflix actually helps to correct. In the UK, this got a limited release and that was it - I will say that I'm glad I didn't pay to see this in a cinema because then I would have been far harsher with my scoring.
Being on Netflix, you can turn on subtitles which is invaluable in this movie. The super-majority of the dialogue in this movie is delivered very quickly quickly, at high volume, and usually while at least one other person is also speaking very fast and very loud. If you don't have subtitles on, you will miss a lot of what gets said in this movie.
It's very realistic to have these people talking over each other as much as they do and in the manner they do, especially considering how the stakes continually increase throughout the movie, but it also becomes tiring when so many conversations start sounding the same that it becomes almost like white noise. Again, subtitles save Uncut Gems as you can tune out and just read what you need when another shouting match begins.
All of this sounds like a lot of criticism, but I would still recommend seeing this movie at least once, if only for the performances from Sandler, Stanfield and Fox to at least appreciate just how good that trio are. I don't think the movie as a whole matches their efforts, leaving me rather apathetic thanks to how it all ends, but they deliver performances that are absolutely worth watching.
Uncut Gems is one of those movies that falls into the bracket of 'I'm glad I watched it, but won't be unhappy if I never see it again'. The acting is phenomenal, with Sandler and Stanfield so utterly inhabiting their characters that they'll make you forget you're even watching actors. The only problem is that (almost) everyone in this movie is so desperately unlikable that you might not care too much about what happens to them in the end.