Though it may be a film that lives and breathes New York, in one brief scene Uncut Gems opens itself up to far-reaching implications, with scenes of injured workers in the Welo mines in Ethiopia.
The latest film from Josh and Benny Safdie operates in a similar fashion to Good Time’s underlying commentary on white privilege; this opening scene in Ethiopia is essential to the tone of the rest of the film, one ultimately about a man destroying himself in order to maximize a profit that he’s made off of endangered, underpaid Africans through an unholy combination of betting, pawnshops, and other precarious methods.
The man in question is Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler in a career-best performance), a jeweler located in New York’s diamond district who is up to his neck in debt, constantly dodging or fighting off terrifying collectors.
Sandler also gets to bounce off an eclectic, volatile cast; the film mixes unexpected faces such as Idina Menzel as Howard’s long-suffering wife, LaKeith Stanfield as his frustrated business partner, as well as The Weeknd and Kevin Garrett playing funhouse mirror versions of themselves.
With Kevin Garrett practically in a starring role (in what must be the best ever film performances by a basketball player), and a late film sequence that might be the most demented simulation of what it feels like to have intense emotional stakes in the outcome of a game, Uncut Gems slots into a very particular niche, and it’s all the better for it.
It feels like a culmination of every film the Safdie Brothers have made to date, mixing the family drama of Daddy Longlegs with the frenetic tightrope act of Good Time and lead character Connie Nikas’ various cons.
Like Good Time, Uncut Gems is an exercise in utterly torturous suspense, as Howard’s various cons and precarious schemes continually fall apart around him.