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By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2020 09:44AM

Uncut Gems (2020) Dir. Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie

The Safdie brothers’ Good Time (our 2017 review here) was a fantastic thriller which showed a huge amount of promise with its story of Robert Pattinson’s criminal, attempting to break his mentally handicapped brother from prison which leads to an increasingly hectic night.

Well, they’ve proven themselves once again and then some with new flick Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler (yes, that one) stars as Howard Ratner, a Jewish diamond dealer who is addicted to gambling inbetween his time working at his shop.

The Safdie’s film style is incredibly haphazard but perfectly captures the chaotic nature of Ratner’s life. Cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with girlfriend Julia (a brilliant Julia Fox) he owes money all over New York. Attempting to make sales at his store, Sandler brilliantly plays Ratner as a man working with, and against, his own demise.

The film opens as Ratner gets hold of a rock containing uncut opals which he hopes to sell at auction for over $1 million dollars. At the same time he is being chased by loansharks who he owes a six figure sums to, and who ratchet up their threats as Ratner fails (and actively avoids) reimbursing them the cash.

Lakeith Stanfield plays Demany, Howard's assistant who recruits clients. One day he brings in basketball superstar Kevin Garnett (as himself) and Ratner agrees to loan him the gem. With failing bets and with the gem now out of his reach, Ratner’s life spirals out of control as he accuses his girlfriend of cheating on him.

After Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, it was clear that Sandler has the right dramatic chops when given the right material. Like a comedy version of Nic Cage – the volume of his current successful productions are close to zero – he is also like Cage in that he finds a suitable role once a decade to stretch his acting muscles.

Here he plays Ratner not as naïve but with a longing for success if only he could keep his debts at bay long enough to make the final big score. The film uses overlapping dialogue to create confusion representing Ratner’s life, but also to add a huge air of realism to the proceedings.

However no doubt its achievement is Sandler's handling of the role in the end. With a superb support cast totally believable in their parts, there are elements of comedy, drama and tension but it’s the awkward cringe-factor of Ratner’s disorganised life that permeates every frame of the film. It keeps you on edge and made me feel terribly uncomfortable at times - sometimes willing Ratner onto his hopeful success and sometimes angry at him for his foolish decisions.

A well-crafted thriller with a perfect vision from the two up and coming directors, Uncut Gems shows that the brothers are now a cinematic force to be reckoned with and Sandler should pick and choose his roles more carefully. If he does, I think there could be awards interest on the horizon for the actor who shows a flair for dramatic control and places it expertly onto an unruly character to much screen success.

★★★★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 9 2018 07:05PM

Good Time (2017) Dir. Ben and Josh Safdie

Robert Pattinson plays career criminal Constantine "Connie" Nikas who ropes his mentally disabled brother, Nick, into a bank heist in this new film from brothers Ben and Josh Safdie. Good Time was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and the film throws us straight into the brothers’ troublesome schemes. Their plans almost immediately go wrong as their ill-gotten gains from their robbery are tarnished when their bag explodes tainting the money (and them) in pink dye.

Whilst planning their getaway, Pattinson’s brother panics when confronted by cops and before long he is held in custody whilst Pattinson himself escapes leaving his brother to face jail. In prison, his brother is beaten and ends up in bandages in hospital.

Famed for Twilight and a stint in Harry Potter, both which I’m hardly a fan of, Pattinson has attempted to move away from those two infamous franchises with a choice of weird and wonderful indie flicks. Admirable though they may have been, I was no fan of fare such as Cosmopolis (2012, Cronenberg) but he is a great screen presence here and I’d go as far to say this is the most accessible of his post-Twilight films

Pattinson’s Connie then hatches a plan to break out his brother from the hospital but the slightly dull middle sequence is livened with a pulp-y twist straight from the pages of a ludicrous Dan Brown novel. Whilst the crime story has few unique elements – most of which are culled from better movies – the electronic score sounds akin to the eerie music from Stranger Things and is a great addition which provides far more atmosphere than most contemporary soundtracks.

More specifically, in this genre, there is a musical similarity to Drive (2011), whilst a long sequence in an amusement park to find a secret stash was visually inventive with its over-stylised Suspiria-esque lighting adding even more feeling. The ingenious use of the haunted house attraction allowed a fun night time chase to take place with Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips appearing as a brave security guard.

Stylistically, with the extreme lighting, the neon streets, the digital music and even Pattinson’s dyed blonde hair, it evokes some sense of Blade Runner. Stick with me on this. The Rutger Hauer hair and constant digital aural accompaniment gives the film a satisfying ambience and it’s worth noting the excellent performance of Ben Safdie in the supporting role of Connie’s brother Nick. He gives a tender and sympathetic performance in a film full of selfish thugs and his understated and quiet delivery is one of the film’s highlights and provides its much needed heart.

With that all said, is it much more than a good genre flick? Not particularly. Despite its soundtrack and gorgeous lighting, the film hits most of the brawny beats expected but with top performances and seedy sequences, you can do far worse than this movie. Bringing slick street cool to a standard thriller story, Good Time is solid without being stupendous but fans of dark crime flicks will find themselves having more of a great, rather than good, time.


Midlands Movies Mike

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