Uncut Gems – TIFF 2019 Review

From their feature-length debut Daddy Longlegs (excluding The Pleasure of Being Robbed, mainly for logistical/credit reasons), The Safdie Brothers have proven themselves as true modern auteurs of their craft. Creating hyperactive, drug-fueled cautionary tales over the past decade, each of their features contains a certain tense feeling of nihilism, a pure adrenaline rush, and an impending sense of doom. Cinema can be addictive, and the duo are further proving this statement as fact with their art. Their films are proactive, and gross; but never exploitative of real-life tragedy and horror. You always gain more from a Safdie Brother’s flick; a sense of genuinely accomplished euphoria! With Uncut Gems, this may just be the one exception in their filmography towards this pattern. It brings me great sadness to say that, while it has its moments, Uncut Gems feels like a work of self-parody; a bickering and bantering clusterfuck of ideas that fail to come together in any sort of natural progression. 

What I loved most about Good Time, the Safdie Brother’s previous film, was how unpredictable the “hero’s” journey was for Connie Nikas. He’s the prime example of an anti-hero, a disgusting filthy New York rat who consistently entertains and shocks the viewer with each nonchalant and appalling idiotic action he commits. Howard Ratner on the other hand, the supposed protagonist of Uncut Gems, has a serious problem with his demeanor and corrupt mindset. His voice and POV is unrelenting to the point where it’s hard to even route for the guy. With a packed two hour and fifteen minute run-time, Uncut Gems is surprisingly slow; and because of this, results in the lead protagonist receiving more characterization than he actually deserves. He’s an annoying prick first and foremost, and while watching his actions from afar is extremely entertaining, there’s honestly no need to meet the guy in the first place. We don’t need to know about his personal affairs, or his meaningless interaction with The Weeknd. 

The film constantly adds more and more, to crank up the sensory overload; but there’s always a limit for these kind of things. Uncut Gems has TOO much material, to the point where it’s hard to even react to some of the film’s more intense moments. It’s a real shame too, mainly due to how committed the cast and crew were to this project. Adam Sandler gives his best performance since Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. His character maybe wretched, but his fashion style is definitely on point! Same goes with the elliptical Kodak grain cinematography shot by Darius Khondji, who manages to perfectly create the illusion of a chaotic New York City with dizzying and nauseating effect. 

An underwhelming crime caper, and one of this year’s biggest disappointments, Uncut Gems semi-failed, mainly due to a tragic lapse of judgment. It’s loud, noisy, and slightly derivative entertainment, that will leave a bad taste in your mouth. I admire the Safdie’s attempts at adding another cautionary-tale message by the film’s end, giving the narrative some sort of closure; yet the frenetic absurd nature barely gives time for the audience to absorb the film’s insane resolution. The Safdie Brother’s have unfortunately failed to shine bright like a diamond this time around!

Uncut Gems screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. A24 will release the film on December 13th

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