Two minutes into this movie, I was over it. Ten minutes later, I was completely done. I kept watching. I pushed through the pain, and it WAS painful. It was just a bunch of angry men shouting at, and over, each other. Scene after scene just yelly chaos, and it wasn’t really an energy I was expecting or felt I could handle. But I kept watching because I realized this was exactly what directors Benny and Josh Safdie wanted me to feel.
Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a New York City jeweler – not at Tiffany’s or Harry Winston’s, but in one of those shady-looking mess of stores in the diamond district where the real shit goes down. He’s got Furby pendants in his case and watches of questionable origin in his safe. It’s the kind of place you have to know about, or be lured to, and get buzzed in, which contributes to the seediness rather than a sense of security. Anyway, Howard is a wheeler and dealer always looking to get rich quick, and he needs to get rich because he’s got a girlfriend stashed in an apartment, hidden from his wife and kids, so he’s supporting at least two households that we know about. But his big score just came in: a black opal that’s going to net him a cool million. Except Howard’s not the kind of guy who does well with cash in hand, or even with just the possibility of it. He’s going to parlay that potential (but as yet unrealized) money into yet another high-stakes bet. Yup, Howard is a gambler, big time, and he owes money all over town. Because of course he does. The walls are closing in, the tough guys are getting antsier, and he’s pretty much out of moves.
So yeah. Howard’s life is pure and constant chaos, and the damn Safdie brothers are determined to make us viscerally aware of it. His frantic juggling act makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Adam Sandler is very good as a slimy man living on the brink. Rationally, we know that he’s on the brink of ruin, but addict that he is, inside the Vegas-like interior of his brain, with constant lights and sounds fooling him into believing him the next hit is sure to be the big one, he can’t stop. He just KNOWS that he’s due. And it’s actually very sad to watch someone hustle so hard, so deeply in denial, so dangerously mired in so very many bad situations. And Sean wants me to tell you that Kevin Garnett is also quite good…as Kevin Garnett. The he tried to show me some dated basketball clips so I pretended I needed to go for a very long pee. I think he got the hint.
Anyway, Uncut Gems is rough viewing and the only quiet moments are when we’re literally up his poop hole – and yes, that’s problematic in itself and definitely a weird kind of reprieve. It’s polarizing at best. Challenging for sure. Anxiety-triggering. A masterfully manipulated roller coaster that ends, I suppose, the only way it really could.