In the often times intense thriller “Uncut Gems” Howard Ratner, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Adam Sandler (Punch Drunk Love) is the owner of a jewelry business in the Diamond District of New York. His wife, Dinah (Idina Menzel) wants a divorce, not only because of his antics, which I’ll discuss in the following paragraph, but because of his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox), who works for him; and who he allows to live in his Manhattan apartment, where he often spends time, as opposed to his house on Long Island. (As an aside: I don’t dislike Adam Sandler, not at all, but a number of his films for the past two decades with a few exceptions, in my opinion, have left a lot to be desired. In Uncut Gems, however, he gives, what I feel, could wind up being a career defining performance).
The film is set in 2012. Sandler completely embodies the character of Howard Ratner. He didn’t hit one false note, while taking the viewer on an emotional roller coaster ride where he has to maneuver himself through the often times dangerous world of sports gambling. Howard has a serious addiction, which has put him thousands of dollars into debt with the wrong people; one of whom, is his brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian). In order to keep his brother-in-law‘s thugs from inflicting bodily harm, and to satisfy the other people he owes large sums of money to, Howard is doing everything within his power to make things right, and he might just have found a solution to his problems, thanks to his purchase of a rare and valuable Ethiopian opal.
Demany, played by BAFTA nominee LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You), who is an associate of Howard’s brings clientele to the store, while at the same time, trying to get Howard to sell fake watches, that Howard is keeping for him, in his safe at the store. Howard allows Kevin Garnettt, a 15 time ALL-Star and winner of an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, to hold onto the opal. In the film, Garnett, who plays himself, is immediately taken with the opal and has convinced himself that the opal possesses magical powers, which helps him play better basketball. Garnett needs every advantage he can get, because his team, the Boston Celtics, is playing a tightly contested playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. (As an aside: Mike Francesa, although now hosting his own show, once co-hosted, along with Chris Russo, the immensely popular talk sports radio show Mike and the Mad Dog, makes several cameo appearances in the film).
Throughout the film, the viewer follows Howard on his dangerous journey of trying to see his plan of selling the Ethiopian opal at a high end auction come to fruition, but he has to make it to the event first. Complicating matters is that in his haste to attract a new client, he lent the opal to Garnett, who as mentioned earlier, believes the opal contains powers that are helping him to elevate his game. In addition to Howard’s gambling debts, he is doing all he can to track down the basketball superstar and get his property back.
There are scenes in the film, that under different circumstances, such as watching parts of a basketball game, or trying to open a door, the mechanical lock of which has malfunctioned,might not normally be intense, but in this film those scenes are intense, and Sandler makes the viewer feel every ounce of anxiety he’s dealing with, as he waits for the outcomes of things, in order to determine what his next move will have to be. I don’t want to write too much more about the film itself, because I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who have yet to see the movie, but would like to.
”Uncut Gems” was directed by Benny and Josh Safdie (Good Time). In addition, the Safdie brothers co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Ronald Bronstein (Heaven Knows What). The film premiered on August 30, 2019 at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. Parts crime, drama and thriller the film has a runtime of 135 minutes. “Uncut Gems,“ for the most part, moves along at a frenetic pace, thanks to the editing by the aforementioned Bronstein and Benny Safdie. The cinematography is well executed by Oscar nominee Darius Khondji (Evita), who captures the intensity and raw emotion of what the characters, especially Sandler, are conveying to the viewer. Furthermore, the score by Daniel Lopatin (Partisan) helps to aid in the creation of the tension that is transpiring on screen.
For Adam Sandler fans, who always thought based on some of his other dramatic performances that he had a movie like this in him, this is must see viewing. For fans of character studies, that are infused with intensity, where any moment could be someone’s last, because they’ve crossed the wrong people, this should, more than likely, be worth your time.