Sliced Open

Uncut Gems is unraveling when it starts. Adam Sandler’s first lines happen while walking down New York streets on the phone, trying to diffuse a situation. Arriving at his jewelry shop, voices bounce in all directions, some wanting to spend, others wanting their cut of the profits. The few pauses stem from tension, not calm.

It’s remarkable that Uncut Gems can so effortlessly turn Howard Ratner (Sandler) from villain to hero, then back. There’s empathy, then disgust. Uncut Gems doesn’t explain how Ratner got to this point – he owes money to thuggish mobsters, and sees an out in selling a rare Ethiopian opal. Set in 2012, Ratner probably took a hit in the recession, made bad deals, and needed to keep up appearances. Probably, though.

Incapacitating tension runs through Uncut Gems, unrelenting like few other movies

Ratner’s smug. He’s disgusting, abusive, and brash too, cheating on his wife much as he cheats at business. Despicable, yet Uncut Gems picks up as Ratner is nearing a revelation, struggling to make right. Like most, the easy out is attractive in a system that demands upward mobility. Part of a successful Jewish family, it appears he’s pressured and bound by generational expectations too.

There is one genuine laugh in Uncut Gems. It comes as Ratner’s wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) mocks her husband while they discuss divorce. That’s the happiest moment in Uncut Gems. Incapacitating tension runs through this story, unrelenting like few other movies at keeping a hold on panic, turning to borderline madness. As a film, Uncut Gems displays masterful control and exertion on a viewer; it’s an editing nightmare, yet without a mistake.

Deeper is an exploitation theme, with an opal mined by foreign labor to a cruel extent, brought Stateside to as a symbol of western greed. Multiple times, Ratner speaks breathlessly about how long he worked to acquire the gem, boasting, if clueless as to the human cost. Uncut Gem’s seedy look makes everything messy, with this lone gem peeking from stone, the only genuine color. And yet, it’s a curse.

Family is the lone constant. Unlike the barrage of films critical toward capitalism in recent years, Uncut Gems makes a case that family is an out, pressures or not. Ratner becomes ever isolated, and his peace comes during a dinner, gathered around a table with his father and others. They bail him out when in trouble. Pride – and greed – override that safety net. Uncut Gems is a tragedy, led by desperate, awful people. It’s a stunning work.

Video

Lionsgate’s Blu-ray deserves credit. Uncut Gems is not easy source material. Yet, other than a moment of extreme reds (leading into a club), artifacting stays hidden. This film stock brings heavy grain, and cinematography veers hazy, both troublesome on most discs. Not here. Plus, the camera rarely goes without motion, but again, the image holds true.

It’s dark, hitting deep shadows with pure black. That helps. Minor crush appears at times, easily written off as part of the source. Overall contrast impresses, glimmering when light hits jewelry, and spectacular during a brief moment under black light. An orange hoodie glows. It’s a shame this isn’t getting a 4K disc release.

Drained of most color, a recessed palette focuses on cool tones. Ratner’s shop nears a monotone blue. New York holds its overcast. In considering tone, it’s gorgeous, and this Blu-ray captures that flawlessly. When needed (again, that orange hoodie) colors strike. Uncut Gems makes gaudy, gem-coated Furbies look beautiful.

Audio

In the jewelry shop’s first scene, Uncut Gems barely uses the center channel. At first, it’s distracting due to how unusual this is, but in context, voices keep panning between stereos. Dialog comes from the sides, overlapping, with shouting and individual conversations bouncing between the pair. That mixing is something special in conveying chaos.

While typically dialog-led, New York handles ambiance well. Rear speakers engage frequently in this DTS-HD mix, from an opening in a mine (echo bounces from the interior) to clubs and/or parties. Activity is high. For LFE, clubs and loud car sound systems provide.

Extras

At 30-minutes, the making of takes an honest, direct approach, with numerous key interviews telling how this came to be. It’s worth watching, important since it’s also the only bonus.

Uncut Gems
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Unrelenting in its pace and exhausting in its tension, Uncut Gems is an editing masterpiece much as it is a balanced allegory.

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