By: Amin Nour
Uncut Gems is not an easy movie to digest. For entering the film’s universe, one must pay utmost attention. Each shot could indicate something valuable to the story. Everything is worked to its last detail. Nevertheless, as soon as the movie starts, it has the audience on the edge of their seats. This could be said about Safdies’ entire cinema. Their films are like professional competitions, which says a lot about the destiny of their characters and what they should do: surviving a certain situation, and while it is often deadly but the result must be rewarding. In their two previous films, we enter the film as it’s running, in the middle of characters’ chaotic lives. As if one is changing channels on their TV sets and suddenly a random movie catches one’s sight.
Safdies’ films is filled with climaxes of the senses which give a full-on adrenaline to the audience. It is as if the camera never rests, even in its calmest scenes. Something that we have witnessed before in the works of directors such as Altamn, Cassavetes, Scorsese and, of course, Paul Thomas Anderson; the directors whose influence can be traced in Safdies’ works from Cassavetes’ The Killing of The Chinese Bookie and Karel Reisz to Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant in which in particular has more of a deeper resemblance, we have a catholic guilt building up the story and in other, its Jewish optimism and ambition that makes the engine going. That’s why Safdies’ movies always have a 70s-anti-establishment-street cinema verite- feel to it. Using real locations, not simply as a background for the camera shots but to be there as a character alongside the main character.
After Good Time and Heaven Knows What, Uncut Gems is Safdies’ third attempt to make character-centered feature films. These are characters who are responsible for everything, constantly disrupting the natural order, making the life harder for themselves and people around them. They kind of suggest the same plot, more or less: characters who are trying to get out of a difficult situation only by getting themselves into a fatal one.
But Uncut Gems is their first film to be completely a major mainstream project. Even if we don’t consider Pattinson’s role in Good Time, film production and distribution made the film an independent one, considering its take against the Hollywood movies and how “anti-award season” the movie was, that actually was a wise choice. But here in Uncut Gems, we’re watching a movie from Netflix, with Martin Scorsese as the executive producer, Khondji’s analogue cinematography and Sandler as the star of the film. All these elements made it possible for us to take the fastest ride of the year.
From the moment it starts, it’s furious. Everything is accelerating. And not just between the characters or what’s going on with the plot, but also in the non-physical world, in their deepest places of hearts and minds, all these feeling are thrown to the screen. It’s really interesting for a film that’s centered around the most materialistic places with people only caring about their own greed, it’s so sensual. Everything here is, one way or another, related to the character’s feelings. Just like the fantastic soundtrack playing throughout the film, we are witnessing a tense harmony.
The first scene where Howard meets his mistress in his apartment is a good example for explaining this harmony. When he confronts her, a fight starts and then it quickly turns to nagging and then just caressing. The way it shifts to different feelings is amazing. Although everyone has mentioned that Uncut Gems is a “loud” film where everybody is constantly shouting at each other, when you get down to it, it doesn’t seem that much, You are just simply watching a catastrophe in the middle of chaos called life. But just like the chaos, everything is new, you wouldn’t encounter a cliché. As with the film itself, whether it is just a family quarrel or a set up for masculinity humiliation, it always has a new outcome. What Safides do is taking the most repeated narratives and alternate it to something completely different: A girl cheating on her man is going through problems and in the end, he’s being emasculated, or a gambler who is betting his whole life and loses the bet. That’s why Uncut Gems can be funny and, at the same time, harsh or sad. Because there is no emphasize or invisible hand trying to push it towards a dark and too realistic, view on the protagonist’s life. They try to consider all the possible aspects. We, as the audience, are not going to judge the character, we are merely a companion watching him going from point A to point B. That’s why the audience, just like Howard, thinks only about one thing and that’s ‘Gambling’.