Uncut Gems (2019)
December 27, 2019 12:46 PM - Subscribe

A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score, makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime.

"It’s entertaining, but not in any traditional, or even nontraditional, sense of the word", Washington Post

The Mesmerizing Chaos of Uncut Gems, The New Yorker

"Can a movie that generates steady-state anxiety also function as entertainment?", The Wall Street Journal (paywalled)
posted by jeoc (42 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This was an anxiety attack in movie form. Howard is a bad decision machine, and I hated everyone in this film, but still somehow liked this movie? It was some kind of weird alchemy.
posted by jeoc at 12:53 PM on December 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

Staggeringly great, easily in my top 3 of 2019.
posted by porn in the woods at 4:28 PM on December 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the experience of watching this movie was so stressful that it actually triggered my long-dormant facial tic. Which is about as strong a recommendation as I can imagine.
posted by incomple at 5:40 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

It reminded me of how I felt when I saw Raging Bull on its opening weekend nearly 40 years ago. Just brilliant.
posted by How the runs scored at 7:13 PM on December 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

the women are only depicted as shrews or whores
posted by brujita at 2:07 AM on December 28, 2019

This movie fuckin rocked and I can't believe how many people were acting for the first time in it. KG completely delightful to watch holding his own with hot shots like Sandler and Lakeith Stanfield, Mike Francesca absolutely perfect as the bookie, Julia Fox nailed it for her acting debut...apparently even pawn shop guy and ridiculous gross helicopter man were some new york randos the Safdies just knew looked right for the film and impulsively asked them if they wanted a part. What a knack for identifying talent that just looks real and true to the world in this movie, and directing them to perfection regardless of their experience. Blending a bunch of newbies with utter pros like Idina and Bogrosian - this movie was a beautiful melting pot, man.

Everyone says they were stressed watching but I just had a stupid smile on my face the whole time. I could have watched a whole extra hour of these people just screaming in each other's faces like this and could barely tell you why. It was so Jewish, so NYC, so 2012. What can I say, I felt a weird connection to it! It ain't for everyone, but holy shit was it for me.

And if you have never seen Good Time, stop everything you're doing and go watch it now. It's just as good. Now that's a stressful film.
posted by windbox at 3:12 AM on December 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

the women are only depicted as shrews or whores

I see you're familiar with Mr Sandler's work
posted by StarkRoads at 12:39 PM on December 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

the women are only depicted as shrews or whores
I believe that is more a reflection of Howard's choice of company. He's a shit human, who makes shit choices.

I see you're familiar with Mr Sandler's work
Less than fair, IMHO. Sandler doesn't have a writing credit for this.

Moving on...this is a terrific film. I am perplexed at how effectively Howard is revealed to be just awful, but I find myself rooting for him to get a win.

I do wonder if Bogosian influenced the direction. The crosstalk dialog is a lot like his dramatic work - also reminiscent of Mamet's better works in that way.

The scene where the opal is finally sold is golden. Howard's speech about playing for keeps is really top notch work.

And +1 for Julia Fox's film debut. Quite an achievement.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:03 PM on December 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Less than fair, IMHO. Sandler doesn't have a writing credit for this.
Script approval is also a thing huge stars get.

We have like, 30 years worth of material with lousy depictions of women to compare to. It's that way because he likes it that way.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:45 PM on December 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Drew Barrymore played a sympathetic character in The Wedding Singer; as did Selena Gomez in the Hotel Transylvania movies.

there's also the issue of Garnett's awareness of the misery inflicted on the miners who extracted the opal not having any effect on his greed.
posted by brujita at 11:46 PM on December 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Dinah was not a shrew - her feelings about and behavior towards Howard seemed reasonable, justified, and if anything understated. Howard put her in painful and difficult situations and she was consistently calm and in control, even if she was contemptuous.

Julia Fox's character was shown as actively NOT being a whore (although I'm a little iffy on what "whore" actually means here - promiscuous, I guess?), and whose resourcefulness and willingness to leverage people's expectations of her as a young, attractive woman means she is walking away with over a million dollars.

I am perplexed at how effectively Howard is revealed to be just awful, but I find myself rooting for him to get a win.
I agree with this so much. I was so glad when he won at the end, and then almost said aloud, "NO!" when I realized he was opening the door to inside the shop rather than out to the hall.
posted by jeoc at 8:44 AM on December 29, 2019 [16 favorites]

Agreed, I thought Dinah and Julia were two of the only sympathetic characters in the movie. In particular, I was impressed by the scene were Howard tries to get back with Dinah. He tells her to look at his face to see how much remorse and love he feels. The shot of his expression is framed from her point of view, and we see his face with her gaze -- he looks completely goofy and insincere. She laughs at him, the only realistic reaction to that kind of absurd bullshitting. We laugh with her.

Julia, meanwhile, is set up to be a one-note, contemptible character, but toward the end of the movie we are shown how much she actually does care about Howard (for whatever reason). During the basketball game, as we cut between Howard and Julia, we get a lot of action from her point of view, and she shows herself to be a capable, sympathetic protagonist. It's far easier to identify with her than with Howard by the end of the film. He keeps fucking over himself and everyone around him, but she just wants success for her and her lover and she's quietly pulling it off.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2019 [14 favorites]

Plot detail question: To me, all along it seemed like the heavies were Arne's muscle. But when shit goes south in the shop at the climax. Arne looks scared as fuck. He tries to run and gets it too.

It occurred to me that maybe the heavies weren't Arne's muscle. Arne was into *them*, and Howard was into Arne. Arne was just trying to save his own ass by leaning on Howard.

posted by j_curiouser at 1:27 PM on December 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I thought that Arne maybe worked *with* them and he wasn't loaning Howard his own money, he was loaning him money from their loan sharking operation.

Since Howard became such a liability, I figured Howard's fuckups were on Arne to fix, so it was incumbent upon him to bust his ass as hard as possible to get the money back. You can see a sort of relief in Arne's face when Boston wins it - that this can end now. Obviously his associates were still tired of the bullshit; they probably were eager for a while now to just kill them both already and jack the diamond shop to get this all over with but I sensed Arne had been trying to save Howard's (and his own) ass in a way for quite some time as he was technically still family.
posted by windbox at 2:43 PM on December 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

That is to say I think Arne had been trying to protect Howard and buy him time and had maybe put his ass on the line for him in a way, and it was pissing off his muscle/associates more and more as they were eager to be violent and get it over with. Howard locking them up was the last straw to them.

I also want to note how much I REALLY loved how the movie gets the audience to completely buy into Howard's delusions of grandeur that everything will be a-okay and completely square once he wins his parlay bet...nope, in reality if you lock up violent loan sharks and piss them off immensely they'll just fucking ice you and take all of your shit once they're free.
posted by windbox at 4:13 PM on December 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Ok these are interesting takes. I read it as Arne not having control of his hired muscle. Like, after getting locked in an airless hotbox for however long it takes to play a basketball game (2 hours? More? they were very sweaty. I’m not a basketball expert), the hired muscle was Out Of Patience and not willing to put up with any more shit for this particular payday when they could just shoot and smash-n-grab.

Angry blond guy had all that time to think about what he would do if the door opened into the shop, and he just did it.

HOWEVER, this is one of my ongoing pet peeves with movies in general, that instead of showing or explaining what is going on in the shady/crime relationships, they just use a violence or intimidation scene to throw down a $mobshit variable and we’re supposed to know what’s happening based on our extensive crime experience. But most of us don’t have crime experience so we’re just guessing based on Scorsese movies or when we read The Godfather 20 years ago.

This is a very good film, but making clear what the relationships are between Arne and the muscle is the kind of thing that takes a film from very good to masterful.
posted by jeoc at 7:49 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

the kind of thing that takes a film from very good to masterful.
ya know, i'm satisfied just left wondering, but you might be right.

As far as mastery goes, I'm betting there's a 0.9 second cut on the floor that resolves the relationship, all with a word or a glance. A Thelma Schoomaker doesn't come around every day.

Benie Safdie cut it himself with help from a not-super-experienced guy. Maybe too close to it to see that potential conundrum.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:08 PM on December 30, 2019

Saw it tonight and absolutely loved it. Loved the character of Julia and am so glad she got away with the money.

Fun fact about opals - they’re the birthstone for October and it is considered bad luck to wear one if you weren't born in October. It has long been associated with luck both good and bad due to the fact the ancients thought lightening was trapped inside the stone. You can google for many apocryphal stories of people dying after being gifted opals - though some people believe the “bad luck” rumors were initiated by the diamond industry. (My birthstone is emerald but I have several pieces of opal jewelry i wear regularly).

Obviously Howie has a gambling addiction and is a maker of bad choices, but throughout the film i kept wondering if the stone did in fact have some kind of nefarious power, starting with the injured miner.
posted by Brittanie at 8:42 PM on January 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Who was the man with the British accent supposed to be? Why did he share a helicopter ride with Julia or give one to her? Did Howard know him? (Are we even supposed to care?) I can’t find any information about him in plot summaries.
posted by michaelh at 1:33 PM on January 2, 2020

Speaking of first roles, The Heavy was a first-timer too.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:40 PM on January 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

The man with the British accent was a Blade pilot (or passenger, can’t remember) - Blade being a real helicopter company in NY. Howie told her to “take the Blade” to the Mohican Sun casino, which I’m assuming is the absolute fastest way to get from Manhattan to Connecticut.
posted by joechip at 3:00 PM on January 2, 2020

It occurred to me that maybe the heavies weren't Arne's muscle. Arne was into *them*, and Howard was into Arne. Arne was just trying to save his own ass by leaning on Howard.


I didn't feel like this needed further exposition, and it worked just fine as it was. Those were Irish mobsters, and it did not much matter how Arne got in with them. Once you are in, you are fucked. Doesn't matter if he had loaned their money, or just owed them a cut for their services. They were violent men who really did not like being leashed. The two hours in the locker, all the while being taunted by Howard, pushed them over the line.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:45 PM on January 2, 2020 [8 favorites]

Because I live in the deepest backwoods, I was confused about how Julia got a helicopter ride to the casino. I was thinking that Howard seemed comfortable, but not private helicopter, Succession-level well-off. Did not know Blade was a thing.
posted by jeoc at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Kevin Garnett is a real athlete? I had no idea, not a basketball fan. He was terrific. Loved the not-Blade Runner synth score. Fantastic film. Still jittery.
posted by mwhybark at 8:20 PM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

i can't watch it... it's only 35 minutes, and i already had to take 2 breaks
posted by growabrain at 3:07 PM on January 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

I watched this several weeks ago. I agree it's sort of a panic attack set to film. But I think the only movie in the end you can compare it to is Thief. (1981, James Caan, Tangerine Dream soundtrack.) Obviously Uncut Gems is way more intense, but in terms of how the soundtrack takes center stage, the slice of an average joe's life... there's something oddly reminiscent there to me.
posted by Catblack at 2:24 PM on February 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just watched this and loved it. I now know how the people around me feel while watching me make bad decisions, hahaha.

So stupid question. How will the two guys get out of the jewelry shop? You need someone to ring the buzzer right? Aren't the doors like an airlock where you can only open one at a time? Then how do the employees leave? Maybe I am an idiot.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:34 PM on February 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

"So stupid question. How will the two guys get out of the jewelry shop? You need someone to ring the buzzer right? Aren't the doors like an airlock where you can only open one at a time?"

I would just assume there are two buzzers (inner door, outer door) and there's nothing actually prohibiting them from being both opened at the same time other than human training of "first one, then the other."
posted by komara at 8:03 AM on February 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Conversation: An Unserious Man
"Uncut Gems ... might be the most explicitly Jewish mainstream movie since the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man (2009). Its release prompted the following emergency meeting of the editorial staff of Jewish Currents to discuss what Uncut Gems says about contemporary Jewish identity. This conversation has been condensed and edited, and includes spoilers."
posted by Kabanos at 10:54 AM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I kind of assumed that those two crooks were more mad than smart and are inevitably screwed, not least of all because the footage of their crimes is plastered all over the jewelry store cameras, not to mention all of their DNA from their sweat in the impromptu hotbox.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:04 PM on February 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

What do people think of the title of the film? Anybody reading into this?
posted by iamkimiam at 12:57 AM on February 29, 2020

I loved Eric Bogosian's A+++ murder glares. Then he'd slip and show something like pity or worry.. Howard surely wronged Arno, and no doubt it makes Arno even more furious that Howard absolutely does not give a shit. It's personal to Arno, but it's not to Howard, so we don't see it in the movie at all.

(FWIW I thought Arno had too much assumed authority, was a little too comfortable and secure around the heavies, for it to be that he was just another guy in debt to them. Like, I don't think Howard's debts were causing any particular problem for Arno. It felt more like he was a minor player who lost control of his generally scumbaggy goons.)

I liked the party scene were Julia and Demany are highlighted by the black light, and Demany just glows orange with power like a video game mission objective, like we were seeing through Howard's bat-vision.

There was also a tiny line when Kevin Garnett is staring at the opal and Howard is talking about how old it is and he says, "A dinosaur is staring at that opal," which I don't think was merely about a literal dinosaur lol.

Howard reminded me a little of Danny McBride characters: the dramatic tension you get for free when your character is a jerk who is desperately trying to win against other jerks. You kinda want him to both win and lose, so it feels like anything could happen.
posted by fleacircus at 11:55 PM on March 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

David Friend, pop culture reporter at the Canadian Press, has a good Twitter thread with more symbolic details on this movie. It also led to an excellent interview in Polygon with the Safdie brothers: "Cutting through the chaos of Uncut Gems, the best movie not nominated for an Oscar"
Polygon: So where did you get the bejeweled Furby?

Josh Safdie: The Furby we made for the film. Like everything in the movie, form follows function. And we were trying to figure out through the character: what would be the most iconic piece that he kind of started his career with? And so you have to ask, when was Howard popping? When was he really in his stride? We realized was the late ’90s. And we looked up the trend, which was to take toys and pop culture items and bling them out. Then there was something so stupid about the Furby. There’s something also so sad about the Furby, the eyes of a Furby — they look so trapped. So the idea of taking this this thing and encrusting it in diamonds and gold, it just dealt with the scenes of the movie that are being trapped inside of materialism.

Are a lot of the specific choices born from things you’ve observed in the past or present? Howard’s kid has a wall of superhero memorabilia, and the entire room felt replicated, despite being mundane.

: In a weird way, what we’re doing is journalism. In the eight years of going into people’s homes, and sometimes the homes come from people in our own lives and other times they come from people who were trailing and getting to know the world, you walk in and you see ... this movie is very much about the trappings of materialism and if there is any spirituality in consumerism.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:40 PM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Finally got around to watching this last night. Full on tension trip the whole way through, but I definitely enjoyed it.

It was really obvious that Phil was not going to take kindly to being locked away and mocked. He was a man on a hair trigger who was always a bit too quick to move to violence. It was pretty transparent that he would have the reaction he did.
posted by knapah at 2:49 AM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

This is currently number 5 on Netflix in the US today. I wonder what people are thinking about it.
posted by jeoc at 8:09 PM on June 2, 2020

Just finished this and... laughed more than I was expecting? Some amount of that laughter was discomfort, sure, but when the doctor called to tell him he’s fine, I completely lost it. Great inversion of the trope, since the film opens by putting his colon on the mantelpiece. He’a not doomed; he’s a self-dooming machine.
posted by modus_pwns at 6:25 PM on September 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm sure I don't understand gemology, but why are a bunch of opals in a rock worth more than those gems but and faceted?
posted by Carillon at 11:55 PM on October 10, 2020

I am not completely sure, but I think the idea is that this is such a huge and unique specimen.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:03 AM on October 11, 2020

Oh, and also, because it is "special", you see the wide range of estimates of 1-3K /carat. And of course Howard has his plans pinned on the high end, and the auction house gives the very conservative estimate.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:30 AM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I did not enjoy this movie. Hated the chaotic narrative, hated the mostly horrible characters, hated watching Howard act like a complete fucking idiot, and hated the constant racket of everyone talking all at once plus an intrusively loud soundtrack. The female characters were the only sensible/capable/sympathetic ones in this movie.

The only thing I really enjoyed was the sight of that opal. I happen to really love opals, and it was gorgeous.
posted by orange swan at 8:44 PM on November 30, 2020

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