I am not familiar with the Safdie Brothers, but I'm very well acquainted with Adam Sandler. It's safe to say they both shocked me with the relentless, harrowing UNCUT GEMS.
Sandler has put up strong dramatic performances before, 'Spanglish" and "Punch Drunk Love" are both films I really like, with Sandler's dramatic work at the core of each. But his all-in, heartfelt portrayal of NYC diamond broker Howard Ratner is an entirely different depth for him.
Ratner is a man who seems only happy when he's risking it all. Whether he's trying to source a rare gem from South Africa, dealing with high profile sports and music figures on high dollar sales or wagering everything he has at the sports book, Howard is a man on the edge.
Howard's girlfriend Julia (newcomer Julia Fox) works in his shop and lives in a luxury apartment that Howard owns. His wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) tolerates him but is at the end of her rope.
Howard's leveraged the last of his equity with mobster Arno (terrific Eric Bogisian), celebrity client source Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) and Judd Hirsch as Gooey, the wealthy family leader.
To describe the plot in any detail would be to deny you the experience of what writer/directors Benny and Josh Safdie have created.
It's part Robert Altman's multi-character, overlapping dialogue portrait of a place and culture, this one being the New York Diamond exchange and the melting pot of ethnicity, ego and money converging on 57th street.
It's part Paul Thomas Anderson darkness about a man with very few redeeming qualities. Sandler's Howard is unhinged and fed only by his quest for "the score".
But it's definitely something unique. LOUD, frantic, unpleasant but fascinating. It never stops moving.
You root for Sandler's Howard. Not because its Sandler, who's left Billy Madison and Happy Gilmour way behind. You feel him realizing just how over his head he is, which only deepens as he makes decision after decision to sink lower into the deep end.
Sandler's conversation with NBA star Kevin Garnett (surprisingly good throughout) is a frank peek into how Howard's brain works and its somehow intriguing and terrifying at the same time.
Sitting through 2 hours and 15 minutes with Howard, immersed in his world is maddening. I have a friend who called this movie "two hours of people yelling at each other". He's not wrong.
I don't know that I'd call it entertainment. It's almost a right of passage to try and survive Howard's choices along side him.
It's really well written, beautifully shot by Darius Khondji (Se7en) but I really, really hated the music score by Daniel Lopatin. It's so loud, intrusive and over the top that it feels manipulative.
For me, the music score and the opening and closing visual plunges through opals (and other things) were the only two artistic indulgences that the Safdie Brothers got wrong. Beyond that, they've crafted something incredibly unique, interesting and one hell of a ride.
These aren't pleasant people to spend 2 hours with. If they all sat down at the table next to you for dinner, you'd get up and move after 5 minutes.
But they're also fascinating and offer up one hell of a ride. Your enjoyment of the film will likely hinge on your tolerance for a lack of redemption.
Howard never stops seeking it from the universe.
Can the Academy get beyond their stuffy roots to actually nominate Adam Sandler as Best Actor? I hope so. He deserves it for the best performance of his life, so far.
I feel like I didn't just see UNCUT GEMS, it's more like I survived it. Looking forward to what the Safdie Brothers do next, I'll give UNCUT GEMS a B.
It's intense, fascinating, unpleasant and unrelenting...somehow in all the right ways.