Written by Ronald Bronstein and the Safdie brothers, Directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems follows jewelist Haward Ratner on his quest for the biggest scores of his life. Frantic and, at times, anxiety inducing, I’m surprised Howard didn’t die from a heart attack half way through this thing. Of course, then we’d be stuck with half a movie…I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.
Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweler, always on the make for a bigger score. He owes money to at least three bookies, pawns client’s jewelry for cash adding pressure to his debts, has collectors watching his every move, and the largest uncut black opal he loans to a name basketball player to “help his game”. He has so many lies and stories floating, I don’t know how he made this far in life without getting whacked by the collectors. LaKeith Stanfield plays Demany, who brings Howard his rich black friends to buy jewelry and the fake watches he supplies Howard to receive a cut from the sale. Demany brings basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) to Howard’s store. Garnett falls in love with the giant black opal and with Demany’s helps gets Howard to “loan it to him” for his next game. Howard has everything riding on this opal to bring him big money at an auction which he intends to use to pay off his debts and probably gamble the rest away. He knows he shouldn’t do it, but thinking he can use it to his advantage, he loans the gem. Decision after decision, interaction after interaction, each proves Howard to be one step closer to his biggest score or his greatest downfall.
Adam Sandler steps away from his usual shtick and takes Howard on with full commitment. Underneath, Howard is a likeable guy. Everyone knows he just wants to be a big shot who can’t catch a break. Probably why he lasts so long. Even though people are mad, they still root for him. Idina Menzel plays Howard’s wife Dinah, who no longer feels charmed by Howard. Julia Fox plays Julia, Howard’s girlfriend who also works at the jewelry store. For all they go through, Julia is the only one who accepts Howard and helps him in his darkest hour. Eric Bogosian plays Arno, a relative who Howard owes a large sum of money to. You can tell Arno doesn’t want to be in the position he’s in. You can see in his eyes. He doesn’t want to participate in the roughing up, but Howard has left him no choice. Judd Hirsch plays Gooey, another relative who regrets believing Howard.
The overall style is choppy as it wants to use all the tools in the toolbox to make it cool. Starting with the Ethiopian mining town, which we didn’t need to see, to the trip through Howard’s colon, which we didn’t need. It looked pretty cool and spacey–just not necessary to move the story forward. The actors skin and street scenes had a gritty feel to them which worked well. *Pet peeve alert: when people are being jerks or loud, passer-bys or those within earshot usually react to some degree. I mean, they look. They may not do anything, but people look. How come in movies, it’s like no one notices a guy being punched in the face or cussing loud on the street?* The acting is well done and so close to these characters in real life, I thought to myself, I know these people. *Top secret: Shh. I used to know people EXACTLY like this. The gamblers, the collectors, and the girlfriends. It was LA in the 80’s… a long time ago… everything, literally everything, you have depends on some guy making a basket or touch down or run or your team winning by the spread. I remembered one guy calling from the bathroom, while on his honeymoon, whispering so his new bride couldn’t hear what he was doing.* I felt the anxiety creep back in while watching this film. The dialogue seemed on point, fluid, and in balance with the action. The style of the end, the second end, returns to the spacey beginning which is, again, not necessary but looks cool. I really rooted for Howard, as I think many did. I openly gasped at the result of his schemes. I was hoping for something more for him.
I would recommend this film. Saw it in a small viewing room at Darkside Cinema which worked very well for me given the intimate nature of the story. If you’re curious about it but are not sure about seeing in theaters, this movie will play well on dvd or streaming format once released. If you aren’t a big fan of Adam Sandler’s usual schtick, that’s okay, but give him a shot here. You won’t be disappointed. Watch the trailer below: