A Movie Review And Analysis Of Uncut Gems

"Let's Bet On It" - Adam Sandler
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If we had to describe one 12-month period of filmmaking, 2019 would definitely be the year of the shocking character moments. From Waves' heartbreaking, mid-movie gut punch; to Parasite's hidden, below-the-surface reveal; to Joker's brutal, scorched-earth finale; to Avengers: Endgame's climactic, heroic sacrifice; 2019 movies were abundant in powerful, unexpected twists.

uncut gems movie review

But perhaps no narrative beat felt as visceral, tragic, and gasp-inducing as the conclusion of Uncut Gems. The film, a relentless, no-holds-barred crime thriller, was written and directed by brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, who made a name for themselves after helming 2017's Good Time, another nerve-racking New York City crime movie.

And while Good Time was an imaginative, if-at-times disjointed story, Uncut Gems is the Safdies' magnum opus; a dark character study that will have audiences clinging to the edges of their seats, and ultimately left stunned and at a loss for words.

Josh and Benny spent a decade crafting Uncut Gems, explaining that they went through over 150 rewrites of the script.

The story follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a self-centered, manipulative, and impulsive jewelry store owner, who, because of his severe gambling addiction, must perform an increasingly improbable, chaotic race against time in order to pay back a group of menacing loan sharks, all while balancing other mounting financial burdens and crumbling family life.

Uncut Gems succeeds by going against the grain of conventional Hollywood-style filmmaking, reveling in the grittiness of its challenging subject matter, as well as focusing on an unflattering, anti-hero protagonist and supporting characters whose moralities are as equally untethered and questionable.

The movie, which contains so much narrative foreshadowing and blink-and-you'll-miss-them character details, demands multiple viewings to truly appreciate its brilliant, multilayered script.

In one particularly well-written scene, Howard barges into the middle of an NBA practice facility, steals a basketball, and dribbles up the court, commentating as though he were a player in a real game. Without regard to anyone else at the scrimmage, Howard hits a shot, loudly stating that he (the player) has to score. Just moments later, he proudly jogs over to an agitated Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), his business partner, who denies him access to the locker room, leaving Howard feeling defeated and standing alone.

This scene, although brief, is emblematic of the film's larger themes, and illustrates the Safdies' remarkable ability to utilize every frame and line of dialogue to tell a grand, overarching narrative.

Howard Ratner is a compulsive gambler, so upon exclaiming that he can't possibly help himself from scoring (betting), the character is revealing a lot about his own deep-seated issues. No matter how much he loses or how low the odds are, Howard will always chase a new gambling high, each one grander and more dangerous than the last.

Howard's ultimate demise is foreshadowed heavily throughout the length of the film, both through sharp dialogue and effective visual cues.

Phil (Keith Williams Richards), one of the main debt collectors, tells Howard early on that he will shovel the dirt over his gravesite, and is the one who ends up shooting Howard dead in the movie's closing moments.

The film references "sleeping with the fishes," a common mob idiom for death. On one occasion, Howard receives a precious black opal gem, an item that is shipped quite literally inside a box of dead fish. In another instance, Howard tries to save his pet fish, but it ends up dying.

Much of what makes Uncut Gems so compelling is the film's balance of hard-hitting dramatic tension with gut-busting dark comedy. The Safdies recognize that individuals fluctuate between an array of emotional states, which is why their commitment to both seriousness and levity helps ground the film, establishing a sense of realism.

When Howard asks Gary (Mike Francesa), his bookie, to place a high-stakes bet, Gary bluntly states that it's the most nonsensical wager he's ever heard of. An unperturbed Howard, with a toothy smile, gleefully counters that he disagrees, before pausing and repeating, with the same blissful tone, "I disagree Gary," and walks away with a sense of accomplishment.

Howard fails to comprehend the scope of the danger that surrounds him, a factor which only becomes exacerbated as he takes on risk after risk, leading to his eventual downfall.

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