“Uncut Gems,” an American crime thriller directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, is an action-packed cinematic masterpiece. Adam Sandler plays the movie’s main character, Howard Ratner, a gambler and businessman who runs a jewelry store in New York’s diamond district. A 10-year long project, “Uncut Gems” was originally conceptualized by the Safdie brothers in 2009 and ultimately co-written with Ronald Bronstein.
The movie centers on Ratner, a self-centered jeweler who is constantly under pursuit from loan sharks seeking gambling payments. Ratner’s gambling addiction has led him to a handful of broken relationships: conflicts with family members that escalate to violence, a divorce with his wife due to past negligence and a tumultuous relationship with his mistress — who is also his partner-in-crime.
As the film progresses, the audience observes — to an almost comedic extent — how Ratner continues to dig himself into a deeper hole when his personal and professional lives fall apart.
Despite the promise of stability, Ratner continues to place risky sports bets and delay his loan repayments. While running from his money lenders, one of whom is revealed to be his brother-in-law, Ratner still spends most of the film chasing the euphoria of a winning bet, convincing others to invest in his decisions and sometimes charging ahead without caution.
The Safdie brothers do not shy away from artistic decisions in the production of “Uncut Gems,” employing immersive, lurid close ups of the black opal in the beginning of the film, then transitioning to the inside of Ratner’s colon during his colonoscopy to introduce his character, metaphorizing an almost molecular connection to the gems around which Ratner’s life revolves. “Uncut Gems” is remarkably successful in its delivery of action through its commitment to presenting tension and anxiety as precursors of the central character’s state of existence.
Although the idea was developed in 2009, the Safdie brothers only went into production in September 2018, with the screenplay going through over 160 drafts. During this period, the Safdie brothers worked on other films such as “Heaven Knows What” and “Good Time.” Compressing a multitude of themes into a character that seems astonishingly simplistic and irritable, Sandler’s performance in this film is regarded to be one of the best of his career. In an interview, the Safdie brothers discussed their desire to cast Sandler in the film. Josh Safdie commented on how Sandler’s acting stems from his unique humor that “acts as (a) kind of needle to poke and let some air out every once in a while.”
To ensure an authentic performance, Sandler and other actors observed how jewelers conduct their business in the diamond district. They also watched basketball games with gamblers to get in touch with the vernacular and behavior of the characters they were embodying.
In addition to Sandler’s performance, Daniel Lopatin, the movie’s composer professionally known as Oneohtrix Point Never, creates Ratner’s constant state of emergency throughlayers of sounds of shrill, braying voices, the cacophony of New York City and the dramatic musical score to ultimately construct a 135 minute-long, panic-inducing experience for viewers.
The film has received critical acclaim, receiving a score of 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite not being nominated for any Academy Awards, “Uncut Gems” subverts traditional cinematic techniques of an action thriller and provides an honest depiction of how gambling and addiction manifests in an individual’s life. The movie is currently running in cinemas.