Adam Sandler is one of the most exasperating actors out there. He’s made a slew of horrible, stupid movies (The Waterboy, Billy Madison), and yet every now and again he proves that he can actually act (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish). Now he’s getting all kinds of awards season love for his performance in Uncut Gems and deservingly so. It’s one of those roles where you’re simultaneously rooting for the guy and hoping for his comeuppance. His Howard Ratner is not a good guy. He’s a loud, frenetic gambling addict who’s cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with one of his employees (Julia Fox) and taking advantage of everyone he meets. But when he procures a huge black opal smuggled in from Ethiopia with plans to auction it off to settle his considerable debts, he feels like things are finally going his way. But from the moment the stone comes into his life, everything spins even further out of control than it was before. And you’re with him for every single anxiety inducing minute of it.
Howard works in New York’s Diamond District. He owns one of those jewelry shops that are upstairs behind a bunch of locked glass doors and he seems to be doing okay for himself. The shop is busy. Then in walks Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett (played by the player himself) and Howard sees an opportunity to make some money. Garnett is taken with the mysterious stone and wants to buy it. But Howard thinks he can get a lot more at auction, so he makes a deal to lend it Garnett who believes it might be a good luck charm. Howard likes that idea since he’s betting on the upcoming Celtics game.
But when the gem doesn’t get returned in time for the auction, Howard has a problem. His bookie who happens to be his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian) and doesn’t really care if they’re related will do anything to get the money he’s owed, including menacing Howard at his kid’s school play performance, then beating him up and stripping him naked in the parking lot before locking him in his car’s trunk. But all Howard needs is that one big score and it always seems to be just around the corner. So he puts everything on the line for one game. And watching the final scene as that game is played with the thugs just outside, guns drawn, waiting for their due is heart stopping.
Sandler takes a deep dive into this desperate character who you really can’t love but you somehow feel for, and he certainly deserves the high praise he’s getting, and the Safdie brothers who co-wrote and directed the film are equally deserving of accolades for keeping you right on the edge of your seat for the whole 2+ hours. I’d recommend Uncut Gems to sports fans, gamblers, and adrenaline junkies. But also to those looking for a great performance in a gritty New York story.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: I didn’t particularly want to watch Uncut Gems. I’d reached max capacity this award season on gritty, downer movies. But I relented amid the positive word of mouth about Sandler’s performance. Sure enough, he’s very good. Best actor Oscar good? Not quite (IMHO). Just good actor good. Uncut Gems shows the extent to which Sandler can exercise the dramatic chops when the material serves. It’s a surprisingly engrossing film that takes you on an unusual ride that evokes both disdain and sympathy for Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner. I’m glad I saw it, to understand and appreciate the buzz. But it’s still not really my cup of tea. -hb]