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Uncut Gems (Blu-ray Review)

The Safdie Brothers made a nice jump onto the scene a couple years back with their rough and tumble thriller, GoodTime. Not only did they make someone what of a critical cult hit, the film also took note for its outstanding performance from Robert Pattinson (Adding such humor to the people who don’t seem to realize the Twilight movies ended almost 10 years ago, showcasing their lack of movie watching/knowledge). And in a nice turn of events, their follow up effort, Uncut Gems followed suit in upping their game and continuing to explore the magic they found with GoodTime. While the films are quite different, the descriptor of a rough and tumble thriller highlighted by a Goliath performance from the lead remains. And this time, even more people became aware of their talents, with people quite disappointed in the lack of any recognition from the Academy. And in another disappointment, it was stiffed on the 4K Ultra-HD treatment, landing on standard Blu-ray. Available now.

Film

From the Safdie Brothers (Josh and Benny, directors of GoodTime), a charismatic jeweller, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) makes a high-stakes bet that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. In a precarious high-wire act, he must balance business, family and adversaries on all sides in pursuit of the ultimate win.

The hub bub and buzz around Uncut Gems is all about Adam Sandler. And very rightfully so. Sandler delivers an absolutely trans-formative performance, sinking into Howard Ratner and not allowing you to even see a hint of anyone else. Again, enough time has passed that people act surprised that the Sandman can deliver such gravitas and elite performance. Nevertheless complete forgetting great performances he’s given all throughout his career in the likes of Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish and Funny People to name a few. Hell, there are even moments in some of his own comedies (Don’t act like an elitist punk, you’ve surely seen a handful of them) where he delivers dramatic and key moments at gut punching levels. All that being said, his performance here is the crown jewel of them all in its relentless, determined and hungry nature.

Joker had a lot of comparisons to Martin Scorsese with its obvious borrowing and recreating of things revolving around Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. Scorsese’s name is on Uncut Gems as a producer, and the Safdie Brothers’ work so far very much feels like a true next generation Marty as they are clearly inspired and have learned from the master, but know how to tell the story in their own way and have a personality to attribute with their own vision. In comparison, Joker is merely tracing compared to Uncut Gems. And don’t come for my head Joker bros, I enjoyed that film very much.

The Safdie’s take on Howard Ratner is a wonderful, dedicated character study. The film is shot and cut in a style that fully understands and reflects its lead character. Its tough to watch Uncut Gems and not feel so stressed, annoyed and intense. That’s part of the effect of the film. You actually feel like Howard the whole time. This is DEFINITELY not a background movie. Another smart move from the direction is that they keep a majority, if not all the camera angles from the height and eye line of Howard. It never goes any higher or lower, you only experience his interactions from his height. Kevin Garnett is oddly framed or out of frame in a lot of scenes primarily because he’s so much taller than Howard. Its an interesting take that not many could pull off, but it works in spades here.

Garnett is just one of many surprisingly strong supporting characters that fill in Howard’s life. He plays himself, as does pop singer The Weeknd. On paper this should sure fail, but both turn in quite solid and impressive work. You have to see it to believe it. LaKeith Stanfield continues to be such a utility player in Hollywood, showing he can be ANYBODY. Whenever he pops up in something you know you’re in for a complete treat. Quite possibly the most impressive here is Julia Fox who makes a heck of a debut, with full control over her little floozy role, giving it life, depth and purpose.

Daniel Lopatin’s score is quite beautiful and not what I would have expected to accompany the film before seeing it. Its a very electronic throwback score, reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s efforts for Michael Mann’s Thief. Its very much a character in this film as it jumps to the front of many a scene. Its a score so good, you really just look forward to giving it a spin outside of and aware from the movie, judging it as truly a separate work. He also did the score for the previous film from the Safdie Brothers, but the Uncut Gems score really takes the next step to something even better.

Uncut Gems found itself much praise and buzz throughout the awards season but ended up falling flat with the Academy to the rightful disdain of many. It feels like they REALLY missed the boat with a lot of aspects of this film. Hopefully it will continue to find life beyond the spotlight year for it in 2019. This film and its dismissal from the Academy reminds me a lot of 2014’s Nightcrawler, which was heads and tails above most everything that year and featured Jake Gyllenhaal’s all-timer performance. I continue to recommend that one to people to this day and many had forgotten or never heard of it (A damn shame). I hope that isn’t the case for Uncut Gems. But, I cannot wait to see what the Safdie Brothers have in store for us next (Perhaps something like this, creating a little pocket universe for Uncut Gems/GoodTime for thrillers to take place in) and cannot wait for the next “all-in” Adam Sandler performance.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Uncut Gems arrives on Blu-ray with a pretty beautiful looking image. The style of the film would lead or make you mentally assume an uglier, documentary-like look to it. But, upon popping it in, it has those aspects but does offer a lot in the way of color and crispness. The Safdie Brothers know how to handle the documentary style approach to the film in degrees which you can also appreciate the images and surroundings they capture on this Blu-ray picture.

Depth: Spacing is pretty solid as its not compressed and you get a nice natural sense of movement and motion. The aesthetic of the film doesn’t allow for a lot of looking around or appreciating the spacing and dimensions, but from what you can see, there’s nothing problematic and its the furthest thing from being a flat picture. No issues with motion distortion causing a blur or jitter, which is quite an achievement considering how this thing cannot sit still.

Black Levels: Blacks manage to keep a nice good, deep town on the darker side of things about as close to natural as one could hope for this image. Due to the nature of the lighting and such, details can get a little hidden and darker scenes prove to be heavier in the grain department. No issues found with crushing.

Color Reproduction:  Uncut Gems is a surprisingly colorful film for as much of a nit and grit picture as it comes across with the camera style. Inside Howard’s store there are some good purple lights among other things and definitely decor in apartments and such as well as fabric like his Lando Calrissian shirt pop quite nicely. Things like club lighting and electronic displays also carry a very good glow to accentuate the picture.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish. Textures and features are noticeable from pretty much any reasonable camera distance with a really nice sense of realism to them.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio

Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Uncut Gems features quite on overbearing and consuming 5.1 track that really takes a hold of your senses and holds you into the film itself. Its a loud and raucous experience that really fits the film you are watching and perspective of the main character at every little turn. Daniel Lopatin’s score for the film takes center stage in this mix and is quite a bit louder than the vocals and effects in the film (By design), every so slightly drowning them a bit in its intoxicating composure. At the end of the day it truly pushes you and really gives you a great deal of anxiety and immerses you within the film.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension: There isn’t a whole lot, this being a drama and all, that demands the subwoofer, but it is active with the baselines in the music. Punches, gunfire, slammed doors and genuine tussles.

Surround Sound Presentation: This has a pretty solid mix to keep you aware of your surrounds and drive your mind and anxiety nuts with how it fills you with the craziness and shouting going from all around. Every channels adds a bit to that intensity and craziness. Each environment fares pretty well with good ambiance that may be an under appreciated factor in this mix.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. As mentioned above, a little lower in the mix than the score which kind of lobs over it at many points.

Extras

Uncut Gems comes with the DVD edition and a digital code.

Money On The Street: The Making of Uncut Gems (HD, 30:30) – A pretty nicely done, loose featurette going behind the scenes showing us the making of the film with plenty of cast and crew interviews and on-set footage. Sandler, the Safdies, Fox and Menzel are included in the talking heads.

Summary

Uncut Gems was one of the year’s best films, let alone one of the best performances in Adam Sandler. Unfortunately it only received a standard Blu-ray release from Lionsgate (While getting 4K treatment digitally, blech). However, the technical aspects of the presentation are pretty top notch. And while light on the bonus features, the one featurette they do include provides a pretty informative overview of the production with all important voices participating. This one is already down to a pretty nice discounted price, so its an easy pick up on this combo pack.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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