When I was younger, I was always told to ‘apply myself’.
If you put in the hard work – it will be worth it.
But the thing is, it really is just easier to phone it in. Write that essay last minute, scramble together that PowerPoint presentation on the day its due. Your marks are decent enough, so why go through all the trouble of doing it the hard way?
Adam Sandler’s performance in The Safdie Brother’s Uncut Gems shows what happens when you finally put in the effort.
The man is masterful, and brilliantly encapsulates the manic life of Howie Ratner – a New York City jeweller with a severe gambling addiction and mammoth debt owed to his brother-in-law Arno, Eric Bogosian.
Set in 2012, the movie follows Howie as he attempts to repay Arno, without running into his ‘debt collectors’ led by the irritable and violent Phil (Keith Williams Richards). At the same time, Howie must run his business and balancing his complicated family life.
Sandler is supported by a relatively obscure cast. While there are some notable cameos – namely NBA and Boston Celtics legend Kevin Garnett (who, unlike most sport stars in film, provides an energetic and emotive performance) and The Weeknd – most of the names are virtual newcomers. The one exception may be Idina Menzel of Frozen fame, who plays Howard’s estranged wife Dinah.
These names, along with Sandler’s, make up the bulk of known talent in the film. The rest is composed of actors such as Julia Fox, a newcomer to mainstream film who plays her namesake – an employee of Howard’s and his love interest. Performances from Sandler, Fox and even Garnett show that good acting, combined with a character driven script can payoff massively for film studios.
It’s an unfortunate rarity in film and television these days to watch a movie that is not an adaptation, reboot or sequel. Uncut Gems proves that a relatively simple, original, storyline that is thought through and combined with a vision can be a recipe for success.
The twists, trials and tribulations Howard must overcome to pay his debts make for captivating viewing – all without the narrative reaching for fantastical plot deviations or unexplained phenomena to move the story. It is character driven rather than script driven.
Understandably, the Netflix film has come under criticism for its disorientating use of light, movement, and sound especially. The movie is a cacophony of noise at points with background sounds of a busy Manhattan street, seemingly inflated in post-production. When combined with the 90s style electronic score this can feel like it is warping time itself, while important dialogue is occurring.
It is too much, but that’s the point. Josh and Benny Safdie are immersing the audience into Howard’s mind; a frenetic collection of nerves and thoughts and emotions all contained in the skull of one degenerate Jewish gambler looking to score that one big play that will make it all worthwhile. The movie feels like a rush because Howard’s life is a rush and Howard is a rush.
The hallmark of a good film is one that understands what it is and gets the darn basics right. Uncut Gems understands what it is and, with the help of Sandler and co., gets the darn basics right.
If you have nothing else to do one night, log onto Netflix and watch it. To paraphrase the immortal Howie - this is how you win.