Uncut Gems

Some movies should come with a warning for viewers who may be prone to suffer from anxiety or high levels of stress brought on by the tension filmmakers are able to elicit, Uncut Gems is one such movie. Josh and Benny Safdie's darkly comic crime thriller follows a few chaotic days in the life of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) a Jewish jeweler with a serious gambling addiction who runs his store in New York City's Diamond District, constantly borrowing from Peter to pay Paul as one high-stakes bet leads to another and the debts continue to mount. His domestic life is also in a constant state of flux, estranged from his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) and largely absent from his children's lives, he spends more time with his employee and mistress Julia (Julia Fox) whom his relationship with proves similarly rocky. Howard's life is a roller-coaster of toxic behavior that can only possibly end badly, but that doesn't keep him from engaging in a life of ill-advised gambling, especially when his clientele includes famous celebrities such as basketball star Kevin Garnett (played by himself). When Garnett takes an interest in a rare opal diamond from Ethiopia that Howard was able to acquire he uses his charisma to convince Howard to loan him the precious stone for good luck. Already in over his head, Howard continues to get further in deep with the loan sharks, convinced his fortunes will be reversed once he gets the opal back. Of course, as so often happens with Howard, nothing is ever that easy, and it's not long before his whole world begins to sway precariously in the balance of his erratic actions and addiction.

As a technical exercise, Uncut Gems is a pure delight. Following up their previous work on the similarly impressive Good Time the Safdie Brothers prove extraordinarily adept at stringing together one tense scene after another, effortlessly bringing viewers along for the ride as Howard finds himself getting deeper and deeper in over his head. This is a film bursting with visual imagination from its opening credit sequence right up until the final shot. Benny Safdie also served as editor alongside co-writer Ronald Bronstein, and while Uncut Gems moves with a frantic pace that never lets up, there are also surprisingly plenty of moments of off-kilter comedy, often when least expected . Credit this to Sandler as well, whose magnificent high-wire act of a performance ranks as a career best. Not since P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love has Sandler showcased such a vulnerable desperation, imbuing Howard with a magnetic screen presence and unbridled energy, despite how self-destructive his behavior is. It's a whirlwind of a performance perfectly suited to the high-octane rhythms of the film that contains it. I was also very impressed by relative newcomer Julia Fox, who is both sexy and sympathetic as Howard's lover who naively enables his worst characteristics. Uncut Gems ultimately operates most basically and effectively as a tense character study of a man whose rampant gambling addiction renders him his own worst enemy, one that carries the propulsive energy of the best thrillers because we as viewers can't help but keep watching to see how far Howard will go to justify his actions, and what the consequences of them will finally be.

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