Uncut Gems doesn’t ever let up. This is hardly an original sentiment about this film or any other Safdie brothers film, for that matter. They’re known for their uncomfortable and in-your-face style that’s totally intent on constantly keeping you in the moment. However, Uncut Gems is different from their other films in that it feels a lot more purposeful with how it uses stress. It’s integral to the very nature of its main character, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), showing how much this tension and unease dictate his entire life.
The film centres around Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweller with an addiction to gambling, as he places bets all over town hoping to score big. We follow him as he tries to balance his home life, business, affairs, and debts with one another. Howard could’ve easily ended up a very frustrating character but the inspired casting of Sandler is what makes it all come together so well. It gives him an inherent sort of vulnerability through the sort of goofy charm that is usually associated with Adam Sandler.
The soaring synth score by Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) is able to place us in Howard’s shoes by creating this constant sense of euphoria. Where Lopatin’s work on Good Time was concerned with getting your heart racing; this one is more focused on capturing that sense of elation and the rush of riding a bet. It’s about that constant tension of whether or not it’ll all pay off or not, constantly compounding blind luck and bad luck.
Additionally, the Safdies’ focus on real-life events gives the film a sort of meta quality while still ultimately remaining a piece of fiction. The basketball games that Howard is betting on are from the 2012 semifinals series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, with Celtics-player Kevin Garnett even portraying a fictionalised version of himself. This makes the story feel all the more engaging by directly relating it to a real-world context.
Uncut Gems is currently streaming on Netflix, and while a theatrical release would’ve been welcomed with open arms; there’s something more intimate about watching it on a smaller screen that prevents the film’s intensity from being overbearing. Hopefully, the success of this film (even if it was snubbed by the Oscars) leads to even greater success for the Safdie brothers in future!