When I do these reviews, I tend to have a good idea of what I want to see each week for the show. Only sometimes the decision gets made for me. Every now and then a film comes around, normally on Netflix, that everyone around me just doesn’t stop banging on about, so I figure, yep – that might be worth a watch. When said film also happens to be starring Adam Sandler, an actor synonymous with sticking forks in your brain, and yet STILL everyone goes on about, well.. let’s take a look.
Written and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie, with an additional writing credit for Ronald Bronstein, Uncut Gems follows Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler, a Jewish jeweller and gambling addict in the heart of New York City. Up to his eyes in gambling debts, Howard has his eyes set on making a huge score with a rare, uncut, Black Opal which he believes will earn him a cool million – and then some!
Things get complicated when Howard shows off the Opal to a high profile customer, basketball extraordinaire Kevin Garnett – played by himself – who quickly becomes obsessed with the gem and demands he take it with him for good luck for the game that evening. Howard reluctantly agrees, but soon becomes apoplectic with impatience when Kevin doesn’t immediately return it.
With the auctioneer company on his back, an increasingly angry loan shark nipping at his heels and his estranged wife bitterly demanding he spend him with his children, the only solace Howard gets is the time he spends with his mistress, Julia. When Howard suspects even Julia is cheating on him, well, that’s what we call the descent.
Everything goes quickly wrong, and as Howard hits rock bottom, he takes a moment to look once again at the Black Opal, and the upturn begins. I’m sure it wasn’t completely accidental, but there is an odd mysticism hinted at with the eponymous uncut gems. When a character stares deep into the crystal, things change, and even the soundtrack bends itself to add an ethereal air to what would otherwise be just another MacGuffin in the vein of Pulp Fiction’s briefcase, or Snatch’s diamonds.
I think that’s what stands out with Uncut Gems more than anything else. On the surface, this is a low level gangster film with a man in crippling debts fighting against loansharks and gangsters. Except, there’s a lot more going on. Besides Adam Sandler’s quite honestly MAGNIFICENT performance – and indeed the amazing performance by Julia Fox in her feature debut – Uncut Gems takes its time to introduce every element of Howard’s life. He is more than just an addict and an idiot, he’s a three dimensional family man who completely acknowledges the mistakes he makes. He is a schmuck, but a schmuck that is trying to survive the only way he can.
Uncut Gems is, quite honestly, incredible. Not only does it look wonderful, the use of synth music and the film’s pacing is enough to put you on the edge of your seat. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never felt quite so tense and excited watching a BASKETBALL game since Space Jam.
Uncut Gems is currently on Netflix, and seriously, it’s earned its critical acclaim. The only thing that will leave you cold is when the credits roll, and you sit back, take a sip of your drink and think, “What the hell has Adam Sandler been DOING his whole career?!”