The argument for and against “Uncut Gems”

“Uncut Gems” has a compelling soundtrack and cinematography, but too many side plots.

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Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, and Adam Sandler (left to right) in the Safdie Brothers' film "Uncut Gems," now playing at the Living Room Theaters at FAU. Photo courtesy of IMDB.

Marcy Wilder and Enzo Figueroa 

Editors note: Marcy Wilder and Enzo Figueroa review “Uncut Gems” as a convergence project between the UP & Owl TV. Click here to watch the video version.

In Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler plays Howard “Howie” Ratner, a Jewish jeweler who comes into the possession of a rare black opal. Over the course of the movie, he gambles to pay off loan sharks who want him dead while also trying to make a profit from the opal.

This movie has its pros and cons. While the cinematography is one of its strengths, it also goes off on too many irrelevant subplots that bog down the main story. Here’s everything you need to know before you see — including the good and bad: 

“Uncut Gems” is an amazing technical film that is weighed down by a loaded plot

By Marcy Wilder

From the opulent jewelry store to Howie’s residences, and even a basketball court, the beautiful production design adds to the tension by showing how much he has to lose. 

Each setting in the movie feels real with the attention to detail from a bejeweled Furby, to a giant fish tank filled with exotic fish. 

The film portrays Jewish culture in a show-don’t-tell fashion, which was refreshing — since most movies include these scenes for the sake of inclusivity. It was also nice to see Sandler, a Jewish person, in a Jewish role. Being Jewish, seeing something I have done in my life on the big screen done accurately was beautiful to watch. 

The people in the movie were written excellently, with most scenes including characters talking over each other. The dialogue is written in a very realistic manner. 

Detrimental to the film, I felt the story had many unnecessary side plots that don’t enhance the overall story. The beginning scene, one where Ethiopian miners find the opal, feels unnecessary to the point I thought I was in the wrong theater. 

Nothing in the movie is spelled out for you. The characters are not properly introduced, with a lot of information about their relationships that you have to figure out on your own.

The acting was superb, the standouts being Adam Sandler, Julia Fox and Kevin Garnett. The movie was really highlighted by Sandler’s Oscar-worthy performance. For Fox’s debut role, she does a fantastic job. Garnett plays himself in the film and is given a very big role, and carries it beautifully. However, Idina Menzel feels wasted in the movie for an actress of her skill level: her character could have been replaced with a potted plant and the movie wouldn’t lose substance. 

I could predict how the movie was going to end, but I couldn’t predict how it was going to happen. The ending was satisfying, though could have been slightly better for the sake of dramatization. 

A satisfyingly stressful film to watch

By Enzo Figueroa 

The score in the film resonates beautifully. During most scenes, the droning synth sounds are prominent, and it can either heighten a stressful situation or make one of the few tranquil scenes much more peaceful. Each beat seems straight out of an ‘80s gangster flick. So much so, it complements the cinematography, which uses zooms and close-ups to add a sense of claustrophobia. 

A good few minutes are spent on tranquility, whereas the majority of this film doesn’t let the audience breathe. The grasp this film has is almost suffocating at times, and when you do get to breathe, you’re so busy processing what’s happened, when you now are thrown into another one of Howard’s wonderful gambles. You feel the pressure certain poor consequences have on Howard’s character as if you’re going to go down with him, making this film very immersive — that is unless you don’t take stress easily. 

Think of this as a rollercoaster ride that never lets you get the satisfaction of a drop until the end of the climax. The film feels like it’s taking you higher and higher until suddenly, you’re worried you might have made a decision you’re going to strongly regret. Thankfully, the satisfaction outweighs the major stress.

I believe this story could be much stronger as a mini-series or show. There could have been a beginning, middle, and end in this story besides the one we got, which would’ve thrived as a mini-series.

Do you recommend this movie?

MARCY: I would recommend this movie to people looking for a great technical movie, especially to see amazing production, sound design, acting and editing. If you are looking for a clear cut story with not many loose ends that’s easy to follow, this movie is not for you. 

ENZO: This is a movie that should be seen at least once. It’s for those who love intense or gangster-esque films. If you’re of the faint of heart, it’s probably not for you, but it’s one emotional rollercoaster of a movie.

Directed by brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, the film grossed $46,866,968 worldwide since it’s Dec.13 release. Previously they directed 2017’s Good Time & 2014’s Heaven Knows What. 

Marcy Wilder is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

Enzo Figueroa is the production coordinator at Owl TV. For information regarding this story, email [email protected]