It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to describe the plot of “Uncut Gems.” It is a peek into the life of Howard Ratner, a sleazy jeweler in the Diamond District of New York City. We watch Howard, who is flawlessly portrayed by Adam Sandler, make high stakes bets and risky business decisions while failing to balance his family and work life. My grudge against “Uncut Gems” is completely unrelated to the acting, sound effects and camera work. In fact, the Safdie brothers did a great job with these individual aspects. The resentment I feel towards “Uncut Gems” is based on the feeling that this movie was created to meet the arthouse desires of Film Bros.
The most prominent complaint I have come across about “Uncut Gems,” from people outside of the Film Bro crowd, is that it is simply hard to watch. Adam Sandler’s character makes many unsympathetic decisions that the audience can’t help but cringe at. The whole movie is centered around Ratner’s corrupt, selfish lifestyle. There is little character development, and the women and men Ratner is involved with have extremely limited personal depth. It is painfully obvious that the whole plot of this movie was curated for Film Bros; it is a two hour and fifteen-minute glorification of another entitled man’s behavior.
Let’s talk about what elements make up a Film Bro movie: a Film Bro is a niche type of man who grew up idolizing movies that have a wealthy, white, cis, straight, morally questionable man as the protagonist. The problematic behavior of the protagonist is dismissed if the performance is intertwined with masculinity and “coolness.” I like to use the film, “Fight Club” to capture the mindset of Film Bros. In my opinion, “Fight Club” is a satire made to question toxic masculinity and crude violence.
It seems like this question of masculinity should be the obvious takeaway from the film, as the world literally crumbles to pieces as a result of the brutality of Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durdan. The typical Film Bro takes away a very different memento from this movie: that Tyler Durdan is cool. The glorification of crudeness in this film embodies a sense of fraternity among its fans. This does not mean “Fight Club” is a bad movie, it just means that Film Bros tend to idealize the behavior of morally-objectionable male protagonists.
The argument that I have found Film Bros use to defend “Uncut Gems” is that the constant stress it induces is exactly what makes it a great movie. The viewer is forced to look at this bad guy making bad decisions, therefore making the film vagarious compared to what we typically see in theaters.
Is constant discomfort really what constitutes a movie as pioneering? The Safdie brothers are no stranger to inducing distress in their viewers. The film, “Uncut Gems” is nothing in comparison to their 2017 film, “Good Time” in terms of suspense. Josh Safdie said in an interview about the brothers’ 2013 film “Daddy Long Legs,”
“I like the ugly and beautiful at the same time,” as said in the film, “Good Time.”
The film, “Good Time” filmed in 2017, also centers around a morally questionable male. Yet, in this portrayal, there is much more complexity to his character. The film, “Good Time” follows the life of the character of Connie, played by Robert Pattinson, a New Yorker who goes on a high-intensity venture to bail his intellectually disabled brother Nick, played by Bennie Safdie, out of jail. Throughout this film, Connie makes viewers uncomfortable by taking advantage of others for his own good. Yet, the viewer is still enticed to see Connie succeed.
The moments of peace sliced between the chaos in “Good Time” are even more powerful, because they are rarely given to the viewer. The Safdie brothers tease viewers with moments of decreasing intensity in this film, only to induce distress again. There is a particular scene where Connie tenderly feeds an elderly hospital patient some juice while in the midst of an intense half-baked attempt to free his imprisoned brother from the hospital. It is scenes like these that give viewers a reckoning as to what to think of Connie.
“You don’t know how to feel about him, it’s like the guy is making really kind of like gross decisions a lot of the time, and there is still something there. I don’t understand why I am sort of okay with this guy.” said Robert Pattinson in an interview for “Kinowetter” about Connie.
Conversely, in “Uncut Gems” the audience realizes very quickly that Howard is in fact a bad human being. The Safdie brothers give us no room to sympathize with Sandler. The film, “Uncut Gems” intentionally gives viewers nothing, but the crude uncomfortableness. Its ability to make a viewer anguished doesn’t necessarily entitle the film to some avant-garde arthouse label.
Themes of virility and violence alone do not make a film automatically entitled to prestige. The film, “Good Time” remains just as intense, if not more intense than “Uncut Gems,” while simultaneously giving viewers a deeper cerebral look at the protagonist. Knowing that the Safdie brothers have the ability to make highbrow crime films with complex themes made “Uncut Gems” even more of a disappointment to me.
Although “Uncut Gems” was a deceptive film created for hardcore Film Bros, I am still a fan of the Safdie brothers and on the edge of my seat waiting for what they will come out with next.