Uncut Gems, the new film by the Safdie Brothers (Good Time, Heaven Knows What) sits somewhere between the realm of magical realism and hyper reality. Much like Good Time, the Safdies' high-stress crime thriller from 2017, Uncut Gems is unrelenting, frenetic and not for the faint of heart.
The film follows Howard "Howie Bling" Ratner (Adam Sandler), a fast-talking, leather jacket-clad, down on his luck diamond dealer and hustler as he desperately tries to pay back his huge gambling debts by placing bigger and riskier bets. He was once at the top (fancy house, fancy car), but has gotten himself into a hole thanks to too many unlucky deals and a diminishing interest in the diamond-encrusted Furby necklaces he sells at his shop. His wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) can't stand the sight of his "stupid face" anymore, his daughter hates him, his assistant Demany (Atlanta's Lakeith Stanfield) thinks he's a joke. Only his mistress, Julia (Julia Fox) continues to believe in him and comforts him as he cries, "Everything I do is not going right!"
Howard is both schlimazel and schlemiel (Yiddish for unlucky and foolish) in every sense but we can't help but love him. It's Sandler in diamond earrings! What's not to love?
The Safdies have a knack for capturing Howard's sliver of New York—from the non-stop dialogue to the cacophony of cars honking on the street to the sound of the incessant buzzing of the double-bulletproof entrance to his shop. It's a completely immersive experience that you sort of can't wait to get out of.
At the heart of all this chaos is Howard's biggest gamble yet, a giant Ethiopian black opal he's planning to put up for auction at a hugely inflated price. "You can see the whole universe in opals," Howard explains to Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett (playing himself), who then insists on using the opal as a talisman for his upcoming game.
The opal brings a sense of mysticism to Howard's seedy world. Daniel Lopatin's ethereal soundtrack, part sci-fi, part outer-space and part yoga class, adds another layer of depth, elevating Uncut Gems from the excruciatingly real streets of New York to the cosmos. An absolute must-see for those who could handle 48 hours in Midtown Manhattan.
+Sandler, the music, the cinematography
-Total and unrelenting chaos
Directed by The Safdie Brothers
With Sandler and Fox
Violet Crown, R, 135 min.