Telluride 2019: Uncut Gems
Uncut Gems is the recent entry in the Benny and Josh Safdie’s filmography and it’s one you don’t want to miss. From beginning to end, it’s like a jolt to the heart that doesn’t let up. The beginning of the film opens up in Ethiopia where miners are digging for black opal, a precious gemstone. As the frame magnifies into the gem’s gorgeous array of colors, the scene transitions into more red and peach hues revealing Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) getting a colonoscopy. It’s 2012 and Howard lives in New York and is a Jewish jeweler who deals with high-end clientele. He’s married to Dinah (Idina Menzel) and has three children, but has a mistress on the side, his employee Julia (Julia Fox). However, he’s in it deep with debt and whatever Howard tries to do, it goes wrong. He can’t pay his debts back because when he does get money, he spends it gambling on basketball games.
His life turns upside down even more once he acquires a chunk of the rare black opal from Ethiopia he’s waited seventeen months for. Howard has an accomplice who brings him business named Demany (LaKieth Stanfield), who escorts Kevin Garnett, the Celtics basketball player, into the shop to buy jewels. When Howard doesn’t have what Kevin wants, he brings out the black opal to show Garnett who becomes mesmerized by its beauty. The opal is supposed to go to someone for auction and isn’t for sale, but Garnett wants it. Howard makes a collateral deal with Garnett so he can hold onto the gem for his game that night against the Philadelphia 76ers, while Howard holds onto his Boston Celtics championship ring.
Howard is already on thin ice, with his debt collectors hot on his tail, and when he lets a shop hold onto the Celtics ring for a cash advance, Howard doesn’t pay off his debts, but instead bets it on the Celtics/76ers game that night. He hits big and you think all is well. Guess again. His collectors halted the bet and Garnett goes MIA with the gem causing Howard to run amok.
From here, things just keep going downhill. Howard is beat up by his collectors almost on a daily basis and his personal life is swirling down the drain. Uncut Gems is on a pace like no other. There is no stopping the Safdie’s plan and execution, and the brakes are never pumped. They’re in a league of their own right now in terms of current working directors. They have their own style that cannot be compared.
Uncut Gems brings on newcomer Julia Fox and illustrates a top-tier Adam Sandler performance. I know for some that’s not saying much, but trust me when I say that you haven’t seen him like this in awhile, or ever. He is the perfect companion for the directing brother duo. Benny and Josh Safdie show us a side of New York City that hasn’t really been touched in this hyped up period piece. It has a The Exorcist type quality to it, broadcasting something that’s bound to bring down someone’s life in a very dark way.
Uncut Gems took the Safdie’s ten years to put together and the end result is like taking a shot of top shelf vodka and chasing it with a Four Loko. It’s the Safdie’s most mature film yet and one wild intoxicating ride.