The London Film Festival has a tradition of showing a surprise film each year. They normally frame it as something they’d have liked to have shown, but which was only settled upon too late in the day. The fact that they hold screenings in just about the biggest cinema at their disposal also means that it’s normally a big title.
I mean, we were never going to be getting Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but it’s likely to be a big title.
I was going to the Thursday daytime screening, which meant that the Wednesday evening screening had already happened. Social media means that the information was out there if I wanted to know what I was seeing. I hadn’t looked for it, and so was in the minority of the audience (based on a show of hands) in not knowing the title.
I confess that I’d not head of Uncut Gems either way, although the fact that it starred Adam Sandler made me a tiny bit uncomfortable. Look, I think he can do good work – Punch-Drunk Love proves that – but I also had the misfortune to watch his previous Netflix outing (with whom he has an exclusive deal), Murder Mystery with Jennifer Aniston and Luke Evans.
In that instance, I’m sure all the cast loved working in a beautiful region of Italy, but that doesn’t excuse the unfunny mess that we got.
Uncut Gems is altogether a different beast, and it took me quite a while to get a handle on it.
It’s directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, none of who’s work I’d previously seen, and set in the world of the New York jewellery trade. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a wheeler dealer who has his own store hidden away in city, where he sells expensive trinkets to a clientele that includes sports stars and musicians.
He’s hyperactive, talking at a hundred miles an hour and never settling down for a moment. He has a wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) and family at home, but also has an apartment in town, where he’s having an affair with Julia (Julia Fox) one of the sales women in his small store.
It’s also clear that he has money problems. Or rather, he’s trying to deal his way out of those problems. He’s taken delivery (inside a fish) of an uncut black opal which a pre-title sequence shows us was mined in Ethiopia. He believes that this will be worth a million, and let him settle his debts. It’s due to be auctioned off in a few days.
Into his store comes Kevin Garnett, the real NBA star playing himself when he was still a player, and on the lookout for something special. Ratner wants to show off his opal, and Garnett takes a shine to it, wanting to hold onto for a few hours and swapping it temporarily for his championship ring. This ring, Ratner then pawns, and decides to use the money to place a big bet on Garnett in that night’s game.
Things basically begin to spiral from there.
This film is incredibly hard to fully describe. The sound probably deserves its own essay! Overlapping dialogue doesn’t even begin to explain it. Multiple people are having multiple conversations simultaneously, and it stays like this for the entire runtime. There are very few moments when at least one person isn’t talking.
The film is full of cameos from real people – The Weeknd trying to chat up Julia in a toilet cubicle while they do coke – not always in the best possible light.
I confess that I came away fairly equivocal about the film. Sandler does indeed inhabit his character fully, but I found the film disjointed. The sound issue was a problem for me, and I was in a cinema with superb sound. The opening scenes were from a completely different film, as are the opening (and closing) titles. The world we inhabit in this film is quite claustrophobic – purposefully.
The construction is interesting, but I’m not sure I want to watch it again.