TIFF 2019: Uncut Gems

The Safdie brothers follow up Good Time with another frenetic New York drama, as Adam Sandler gives a great performance as a brash jeweller who dabbles in various suspect tradings across the city

Film Review by Caitlin Quinlan | 13 Sep 2019
  • Uncut Gems
Film title: Uncut Gems
Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Starring: Adam Sandler, LaKeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett

Uncut Gems glows from the opening seconds of its title sequence onwards. Directors Josh and Benny Safdie guide us down a glittering rabbit hole into the heart of a precious opal to begin this masterful work of filmmaking, and leave us there stunned by its brilliance.

Adam Sandler takes the lead as Howard Ratner, a jewellery store owner in New York who deals in rare gems and dabbles in various suspect tradings across the city. Howard is spinning an endless number of plates; what bills are owed, which bets are placed, what collateral he has stored and where. The Safdies are adept at creating such intensely stressful environments and interactions, as Howard’s business operations become even more perilous and his blind fearlessness gets the better of him. This is not a film that ever pauses to take a breath, and it is so cleverly and frustratingly done that it’s enough to make you want to scream in your seat.

With their previous feature, Good Time, the Safdie brothers established some stylistic trademarks that they carry over to great effect here. Notably the brothers work again with Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) for the score that brings a similarly mystical grit to Uncut Gems. Grainy close-ups and their taste for green-tinted lighting are employed again too, which create a satisfying visual language for the film of criminal grime. It’s a great performance by Sandler too, with Idina Menzel also standing out in a slightly limited role as Howard’s wife, and a star turn by former professional basketball player Kevin Garnett.

This is a sharp and maniacal film that manages to be so intelligently controlled in its hysteria; a tightly constructed examination of obsession, addiction, and arrogance. Uncut Gems is so ambitiously crafted and well-executed, a very special film indeed.


Uncut Gems screened at Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in the UK by Netflix in 2020