Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Uncut Gems

Josh and Benny Safdie’s Uncut Gems is cinema verité with mostly real actors. It’s a Battle of Algiers of New York’s diamond district, featuring also former Celtics star Kevin Garnett, who has a fixation on the uncut gem of the title. It’s a also a vehicle to demonstrate Adam Sandler’s versatility. If nothing else the comedy star's acting will disabuse critics who may have doubted his ability to play dramatic roles. In this regard Uncut Gems negotiates a delicate territory in which the viewer can find him or herself experiencing involuntary laughter amidst scenes that are meant to produce dread. Jewel trading and gambling, the film’s ostensible themes, make for a volatile combination and the jittery rapid fire cross cut style of Darius Khondji's cinematography creates a jagged territory on which the story moves to its explosive conclusion. However, there’s something almost disingenuous about its exploration of the insular world the film explores. The narrative begins in Ethiopia where the stones of the title have been mined. Then suddenly, the scene switches to Manhattan where Sandler’s character Howard Ratner who’s having a colonoscopy is making a rye jokes about the chosen quality of the Jews being their propensity for colon cancer. A Passover Seder is pictured as a neutral territory similar to the one warring mafia families occupy before shootouts in barber shops, clam houses and social clubs, but the treatment and portraiture is often  dismissive and in the end plot driven in a way that's forced considering the innovative, initially almost naturalistic immersion in its setting.

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