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  • Daniel Rae

Uncut Gems Review


"Uncut Gems", A24 and Elara Pictures, 2019


This film sees the Safdie brothers not only refining their wholly original style of filmmaking, but pushing the boat out for the industry as a whole in exploring uncharted territory in terms of intertextuality and social/referential codes.

The best adjective I would use to describe this film is "primal". It may not be as raw and rugged as films like Good Time, but the dynamic use of film form that manages to straddle the line between the conventional and unconventional echoes a very unfiltered and gruff aesthetic, providing the perfect platform for the brothers to craft a very free-flowing rhythm which effectively directs audiences down the rabbit hole that Sandler's character finds himself constantly digging. The attention to detail regarding spectatorship is something to behold and offers an even darker window into the dark underbelly of corrupt jewellery dealings. The woozy feeling created by the claustrophobic juxtaposition of aimlessness and bliss is pinned on to the viewer from the very beginning with an effective transition tying the two worlds of excess together. The imagery here in particular that bleeds together the notion of wealth and the human body is brilliant in highlighting how Howard's identity is literally in his DNA. This idea is explored further the amalgamation of realist and surrealist styles the diegesis proceeds to take. This is best seen with the sense of kinetic energy from the cinematography constantly shifts with unorthodox zooms and angles.

The Safdie brothers also do a fantastic job with characterisation and the textured modes of identification we share with these individuals. The nuances of voice inflexions and how Sandler hangs his shoulders underlines the emotional weight of his vapid business ventures which he attempts to relieve through the consumption of greed. How the characters communicate feels very real and I appreciate how characters attempt to drown out others with volume during the rise of conflict, presenting a pretty visceral image of toxic masculinity. The different relationships that Howard has which often collide with one another highlights poignantly how one can be literally consumed by the constant pursuit for more. As much of trope this may have panned out to be in the crime/mystery genre, here it is grounded by a haunting sense of verisimilitude with equal parts muted and expressive colour palettes that captures the torn life that Howard leads. This can also be seen with crude steadicam movement that manages to ground the explosive energy the plot radiates, as well as providing a fitting platform for the dynamic editing techniques that feels like it's trying to break the mould of continuity.

Overall, this is a very character-driven film that somehow always manages to feel in medias res. Our faces are thrusted into this bouncy, self-reflective world that manages to feel both distant and familiar. How the Safdie brothers approach mood is nothing like I've ever seen before, with the splicing of weird choices of music that manages to make an immoral decision Howard makes resonate so much more than the expected sombre choice of soundtrack.

Whilst I recognise that the winding twists and turns in the narrative may seem to pave the way for equally vapid characters, I appreciate how real they still manage to feel and their purpose in providing a unique view into Howards' dealings which we are enlightened by.


4.5/5 Stars

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