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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

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