“Uncut Gems”; Cast: Adam, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett; Direction: Josh and Benny Safdie; Rating: * * * * (four stars)
By Vinayak Chakravorty
It’s taken a couple of indie mavericks with a Martin Scorsese inspiration to bring out the essence of Adam Sandler’s histrionic talent. Forever crushed by his image as a star of crass slapstick hits, Sandler finally finds a reason to surprise all in this film, with the most remarkable act yet in his career of three decades.
American indie wizards Josh and Benny Safdie have created a sparkling winner with “Uncut Gems”, a crime drama that technically bears street-savvy edge even as it reveals intelligent storytelling relish to unfold a gritty suspense drama. The impact is slowburn as the crime thriller grows on you with every passing minute. A tautly executed narrative, brought to life by Ronald Bronstein and Benny Safdie’s crisp editing, renders importance to every second of the film’s 135-minute runtime.
The genius of the Safdies is at work here again, after their 2017 Robert Pattinson-starrer “Good Time”, you realise, and they have the backing of Martin Scorsese as executive producer this time.
In Sandler’s protagonist Howard Ratner, the Safdie brothers along with co-writer Ronald Bronstein have penned one of contemporary Hollywood’s most fascinating fictional characters. Once a bigtime dealer of gems in New York, Ratner is all but destroyed owing to his addiction for gambling. As his family life disintegrates, his debt score keeps piling up.
Desperate to bail out in life, Ratner believes he has finally hit the jackpot when he comes across a rare uncut Ethiopian opal. He is confident all his problems would be solved if he manages to sell the gem for an extravagant amount but there are twists awaiting his tale, of course, which will make the film an immensely engaging watch.
The film is mostly about Sandler’s authorbacked brilliance, but credibly-etched characters that make up the supporting cast render ample support, too. Delightful cameos are smartly placed all along as the narrative moves. Of these, basketball icon Kevin Garnett’s special appearance is smartly woven into the plot. He actually plays an important role in pushing the story forward. Pop star The Weeknd gets to do a mischievous turn, and you could spot rappers Ca$h Out and Trinidad James too, appearing as themselves.
In the high-end world of the film’s gem dealer hero, the picture perhaps wouldn’t be complete without a bit of the celebrity bling.
Those, though, are the ornamental frills. “Uncut Gems” primarily shines for the imaginative way in which the Safdies have played with modern-age psychosis and greed, and how the two traits blend to create an explosive mix in this screenplay. There is an element of chaos about Ratner’s life, and ace French-Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji beautifully captures that vibe in the frames.
“Uncut Gems” brings back a whiff of grunge into Hollywood drama. This is cinema of irreverent fun, executed with near-perfect aplomb.
(Vinayak Chakravorty can be reached at [email protected])