Comedy Crime

Diamonds in the Rough: A TIFF Review of ‘Uncut Gems’

September 16, 2019Nick Armstrong

In Josh and Benny Safdie's Good Time, we watched idly as Robert Pattinson's character, Connie, is eaten up by his poor decision-making. In their followup, Uncut Gems, the Safdies start the clock all over again so we can watch a jeweler in New York City named Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) fall down a rabbit hole of greed and glut when he receives a long-awaited jewel he imported from Ethiopia.

To call a performance transformative is, while a cliché, true of Sandler's here, although what really makes Uncut Gems shine is its odd relationship to reality. A period piece set in the New York City diamond district in 2012, it is essentially structured around a specific basketball game that many basketball fans are sure to remember like it was yesterday. The narrative's placement between the past and our current state of affairs allows us to believe there is a distance, but it pulls us back into reality when it reveals itself as a modern tragedy, and its length also indulges in this because, as it goes on, we see a seemingly infinite number of opportunities for Howard to change his ways, but his greed gets the best of him.

A nonstop flurry of bad decisions, expletives and excess, Uncut Gems unfolds in a palpably claustrophobic fashion, epitomizing the feeling that Howard seems to have been ignoring for a very long time — that the world is closing in on him. But the real stroke of genius comes with Sandler's casting, for while it may seem absurd and laughable to see all of this coming from him, he brings a sense of despair that permeates the entire film.

Uncut Gems makes its international premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 14 min.

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