Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Uncut Gems

As in 2017's Good Time, the Safdie brothers offer a tale of a man whose world is crashing down on him. In Uncut Gems that man is jeweler, philanderer, and addicted gambler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) whose life, in his opinion, is always just one-step away from the big score that can change everything. Howard has a dissatisfied wife (Idina Menzel) and kids, is sleeping with one of his employees (Julia Fox), owes markers all over town including to his brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian), bets any money he can get on sports, and has sunk much of his savings into an an uncut opal from Ethiopia. When his hero worship gets the best of him and he allows Kevin Garnett (playing himself) to hold onto the gem for a night, Howard's life begins to unravel strand-by-strand.

Sandler's Howard is the architect of his own failure. While I couldn't find reason to root for or against his need to reach for one long shot after the other, Uncut Gems does offer an intriguing look at a man being crushed by his own bad choices. But, because I could never invest any emotion into the outcome of Howard's various schemes, Uncut Gems effect on me was limited. Without a stake in success or failure, I simply watched events unfold with curiosity.

Sandler is getting the majority of the recognition for the film, and rightly so. After years of making cheap crap for himself and his friends through Happy Madison Productions he reminds us that he can do some acting when he feels like it. While not the best performance of the year, it's the best he's offered in several years. The other thing Uncut Gems has going for it is Howard's mania and the film's pace, both which build to the inevitable conclusion where everything rides on yet another long shot. Uncut Gems isn't for everyone. It's structure, it's unlikable lead character, and a storyline focused on a man's insistence to ruin his own life divided the critics at the screening I attended. Without ever getting me to buy-in on the outcome of Howard's journey, the film kept my interest throughout (which is actually fairly impressive). If you have the patience for it, Uncut Gems is worth a look.

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