March 31, 2023

Film Review: ‘Uncut Gems’ is an Anxiety-Inducing Gamble

The Safdie BrothersUncut Gems is a crime thriller that takes us into a seedy underworld most people probably do not know to exist. It is a tangled web encompassing the dealing of precious gems, seedy pawn shops, high-end clientele, mistresses, exorbitant sports bets, and the constant pursuit by the muscle hired to collect on your losses (through force when needed). The film is an exercise in anxiety entertainment – a winner that is both relentlessly demanding and intoxicatingly intense.

Adam Sandler‘s Howard Ratner is a New York City jeweler who is the pawn at the center of a dangerous, self-perpetuating game. Although he seems to have the ability to make a legitimate living as a jeweler he is constantly performing a high-risk tight rope act without a new. He is an addict constantly chasing the next high. Not drugs, but rather the adrenaline that comes with the danger of living on the edge. He borrows from Paul to pay Peter and vice versa, every time raising the stakes higher and simultaneously digging the hole a little bit deeper.

One day Howard’s ticket to success arrives inside a fish box, in the form of an uncut opal that he values in the seven-figure range. After seventeen months of trying to acquire it, this one-piece can shift his future down the right path. It is a life-changer. So, when NBA star Kevin Garnett sees the rare gem and begs to borrow it to provide him luck in the NBA finals, of course, Howard says no. Scratch that – of course, he lends it to Garnett in exchange for some collateral, Garnett’s NBA championship ring. Once the ring is in his possession, Howard does what any responsible person would do, he pawns it off in exchange for cash needed to pay off a bookie.

As you could probably guess, that money doesn’t go to the bookie. Seeing a pattern here? It is one facepalm moment to the next. Watching Howard’s perpetual missteps can be painful, which is partially the purpose of the film. At the same time, his high stakes gambles are a vicarious thrill ride, where you ride shotgun as you hold your breath that Howard gets his windfall.

At his core, Howard is just another junkie looking for that one fix that will never come – it is an endless pursuit. The only reason we are so invested in it is that Sandler nails the performance. For the first half, it may come across as fairly one-note, a fast-talking con-man whose word cannot be trusted no matter who he is talking to – his wife, one of his bookies, his kids, or his clients.

The one person he tends to be most sincere with is his mistress, Julia (scene-stealing newcomer Julia Fox) who sees behind the everything-is-alright gilding he sells so insistently. It is in these moments that Sandler does his best work, delivering the best performance of his career. Like his character, he grabs hold of audiences and seduces us into rooting for him, even if it is against our better judgment. Actually, he comes across like the type of friend you would probably duck into a corner to avoid. Yet, Sandler’s work allows us to fall for the con.

If you are an anxious person, this may not be the film for you. The Safdie Brothers purposely created is a hyper-stressful, tortuous ball of suspense. Some people will surely eat it up. For others, it will be a relentless rollercoaster ride that has them hoping it will end after the next turn only to reveal that another big incline. The brisk-paced editing and often roaring score by Daniel Lopatin score work in collaboration to compound the hectic tension.

There are also plenty of noteworthy performances; Idina Menzel nails his neglected wife, Kevin Garnett surprises, Eric Bogosian‘s conflicted bookie emotes so much with just his eyes his character could carry a spin-off film, Lakeith Stanfield & Judd Hirsch both provide what are becoming reliably strong performances. For both fans and detractors of his previous work, Sandler is a gem here and well worth laying your money on. I don’t think you can lose this bet.


Quick Scan:

Adam Sandler takes us on an anxiety-inducing, trippy ride.

Share and Enjoy !