Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

The follow-up to Good Time from Safdie brothers Josh and Benny feels similarly frantic but also proves darker and more unsettling, with a strong, if occasionally infuriating, performance by no less than Adam Sandler.

Having coaxed memorable work from another problem child, Robert Pattinson, in Good Time, here Josh and Benny Safdie similarly push the goofy-comedy-friendly Sandler in new and disquieting directions. Sandler can really act (see Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories for proof) but rarely stretches himself, and while he was cast after the filmmakers first considered Harvey Keitel, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jonah Hill, he’s still awfully good.

Back in 2012 Howard Ratner (Sandler) runs KMH Gems & Jewelry in New York’s ‘Diamond District’, and his life is an increasingly dangerous mess. A compulsive gambling addict who lives and works in chaos, Howard is used to daily situations (like Pattinson’s Connie in Good Time) where a hundred things are happening at once and everyone’s talking (and swearing) incessantly. But chances are the viewer isn’t, and this sort of profanely Robert-Altman-like atmosphere should prove hard to take for more than a few.

Howard divides his time between his estranged wife Dinah (Broadway star and Frozen voicer Idina Menzel) and employee and girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox), and owes $100 000 to his loan shark brother-in-law Arno (scary Eric Bogosian), who keeps harassing him with help from some seriously nasty guys. Our flawed protagonist receives a rare black opal first glimpsed in the opening sequence, and although he hopes to auction it off for big money, pay off Arno and then spend quality time with Julia, he instead winds up lending it to one of his favourite customers, Kevin Garnett (the former pro basketballer playing himself rather well).

There’s a heavy suggestion that Kevin has glimpsed something mystical deep within the opal and wants to hold onto it for luck, yet Howard could certainly do with a fair bit of that himself, as he makes several more bad decisions and gives the similarly foolish hero of The Gambler (original 1974, remake 2014) a run for his ill-gotten money.

Impressive but somewhat exhausting at 135 minutes, this still has a great deal to admire, from the pitch of nervous tension, to the entire supporting cast (some of whom go uncredited), to Daniel Lopatin’s (who makes electronic music as Oneohtrix Point Never) musical score, to Sandler’s pretty daring playing.

And yet the frenetic aspects here are a little wearying, and you can’t help but long for Howard to yell, “Quiet!”, and plead with everyone to talk one at a damn time. And, with an F-bomb tally surely reaching into the hundreds, the film certainly lives up to its uncut title.

Reviewer Rating

Uncut Gems (MA) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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