OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

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Uncut Gems

Nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature and Best Actor!

Josh and Benny Safdie, the indie filmmaking brothers whose New York City movies (such as Heaven Knows What and Good Time) shudder with attitude, tell fast, grubby stories that harken back to the time when Sidney Lumet ruled sets in the 1970s. Their vigour is an instant rush: Why creep a camera down a hallway when you can fling it behind equally unhinged characters? There’s no nostalgia to these films, no cuteness, only the mania of urban survival, improvised on the fly with a side of trash talk.

Cobbled together poster for the Adam Sandler drama Uncut GemsUncut Gems, the Safdies’ electrifying and abrasive latest drama, goes deeper than the brothers ever have into a genuine affection for their various schemers, and that makes all the difference. Tenaciously, it follows a week in the 2012 life of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Diamond District dealer, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, channeling his obnoxiousness into something magically right, even moving). You may be overwhelmed by the Safdies’ spiky sound design – filled with yelling, sports betting, the jewelry shop’s constantly buzzing security door and an overcaffeinated Tangerine Dream-like synth score – but Howard thrives in this chaos. It’s his normal.

Beyond his bling salesmanship, Howard dreams of a big score, which arrives by messenger from Ethiopia: a gleaming chunk of opal-encrusted rock which he hopes to auction off for a fortune. (It’s real ‘old school Middle-earth shit,’ he tells the hypnotized NBA star Kevin Garnett, playing himself with self-deprecating charm.) The various whereabouts of this stone will become a plot spine for Uncut Gems, but that’s just an excuse to ping-pong Howard among a kaleidoscopic cross-section of sharply etched neurotics: pawnshop kibitzers, menacing debt collectors (led by a spookily intense Eric Bogosian), a semi-estranged wife (Idina Menzel, seeping fury from every pore) and a brassy mistress, also his shop’s counter clerk, who may actually be falling in love with him (Julia Fox, making a stellar debut).

Gamblers at heart, the Safdies have a palpable love of gamesmanship, of arguments pushed to the brink, verbal beatdowns and courtside chatter. Uncut Gems is made with so much love, care and enthusiasm – plus no small amount of risk – you thrill to think that they’re just getting started.

– Joshua Rothkopf,  Time Out

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