The suspenseful, chaotic Uncut Gems offers a uniquely intense viewing experience.
Staring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, and Eric Bogosian
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
A self-destructive gambling addict who is swiftly spiralling out of control is the subject of the Safdie brothers’ latest film, Uncut Gems. The film is an intense crime thriller driven by a terrific performance by Adam Sandler.
The protagonist is Howard Ratner (Sandler), a jeweller who is addicted to sports gambling and owes money to his loan shark brother-in-law, Arno (Eric Bogosian).
His personal life isn’t faring any better than his financial situation. His estranged wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel), wants a divorce, although the couple are keeping up appearances for the sake of their children. And, he is shacking up with his mistress and jewellery store employee, Julia (Julia Fox).
Howard hopes his luck will turn with the auction and sale of a rare gemstone he has acquired and that Basketball player Kevin Garnett (playing himself) has taken a shine to. But things, as you would expect, don’t go quite according to plan. With each misstep, he falls deeper into trouble. Every time the debt collectors come calling, he finds himself in hot water(s).
You spend nearly two hours squirming at Howard’s actions, choices, and dishonesties, wondering if he will manage to redeem himself or will instead fall prey to his own vices.
But even though he is a thoroughly unlikable character, you eventually get to the point where you still find yourself hoping he wins. If for no other reason, than to give the viewer a respite from the constant stress of the situation.
Between the frenetic pacing, non-stop chattering and yelling, and chaotic predicament, the tension rarely lets up. That might be why watching Uncut Gems isn’t exactly an enjoyable experience – it’s stressful and hectic and anxiety-provoking. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Safdies have created a drama that is downright fascinating. The setting, too, is interesting, although perhaps delving a little deeper into the harsh backdrop might have made it even more intriguing.
A slight misstep also emerges in the form of the intrusive soundtrack which, it’s fairly obvious, was meant to be visceral, but is instead often jarring, especially in the initial sequence.
The credit for carrying the film goes entirely to Adam Sandler who is surprisingly terrific in his role as a hustling sleazeball. It really is a shame that the actor didn’t get an Oscar nod, and whether you have liked his previous works or not, chances are you will walk out of Uncut Gems impressed by his performance while simultaneously dreading and looking forward to the terrible movie he promised to make if he was snubbed by the Academy.
Rating system: ☆Not on your life ☆ ½ If you really must waste your time ☆☆ Hardly worth the bother ☆☆ ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only ☆☆☆ Good enough for a look see ☆☆☆ ½ Recommended viewing ☆☆☆☆ Don’t miss it ☆☆☆☆ ½ Almost perfect ☆☆☆☆ Perfection