• Zach Youngs

Movie Review: Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems is about Howard Ratner, a jeweler and gambling addict. He gets in deep to the wrong people just as his life is about to change because of a rough piece of rare opal that he worked for months to acquire. He's also in the process of divorcing his wife in order to move in with his young mistress. The film stars Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, and Kevin Garnett (Yes, the basketball player). It's directed by Benny and Josh Safdie and is written by Ronald Bronstein with Benny and Josh Safdie.

If someone is constantly talking, are they really saying anything? I don't think Uncut Gems is saying anything. Sure, you can glean life lessons from any of the plot points in the film. You could say gambling will lead to losing, a person's word is only good when they follow through, the sins of the father are the sins of the son, etc. Yet, even with all of this in mind, Uncut Gems presents no formal resolution, or even a proper setup.

I know I've written before about not getting spoonfed all of the information, but getting told information while a half dozen people are shouting over each other in confined spaces isn't helpful either. The pieces I picked out of certain scenes to put together were thin. I still have no clue how Arno and Howard are related as he seems the big bad, but is later at Howard's father-in-law's house to celebrate Passover. There were never any whole pictures, just incohesive snippets that may be paid off later or paid off in such a way that it's wholly irrelevant.

Speaking of one of the wholly irrelevant details, the first time we see Howard on screen is basically the only time he's not moving. He's getting a colonoscopy. There's this intricate sequence where we zoom in to the beauty of the opal with it's incredible colors and then we fork and come out the other side with the camera inside Howard's colon. I mention this scene because it comes up again during one of the many scenes where Howard is vehemently and violently arguing with someone. In that scene he, of course, decides to take a call from his doctor. The doctor, very confused as to what's happening on the other side of the line, gives Howard the good news. By that point, I'd been so busy trying to put everything together I'd forgotten about the colonoscopy. It's inconsequential, irrelevant, and somehow, fits in perfectly with how much inconsequential and irrelevant information is shouted at us.

The Safdie's are known for their frenetic pacing and constant forward momentum. At least that works for me within the context of the film. I never felt stuck in one scene because I knew it would shift to the next scene soon enough. Yet, I feel their style never let the scenes breathe. That with the constant wall of dialogue, I don't feel as though I could feel anything for these characters. What works is the end. The end breathes a little, or at least feels like a weight off our shoulders because of the euphoria or realization of certain characters. It doesn't last, but for those brief moments I was with them and I saw what I loved in the previous works of the Safdies.

Though many are praising Adam Sandler's work in Uncut Gems, I'll say he's had more depth in the broad comedies I've seen him in. My praise is reserved for the two women in Howard's life. With only a little screen time, Idina Menzel makes a big impression. She's known for big sweeping musicals so to see her stretch and do something where she can run circles around her scene partner is a real treat. The same goes for Julia Fox who has her big screen debut here and is, if only not cryptically motivated, enchantingly excellent as Adam Sandler's mistress.

Like the rocks that are its namesake, Uncut Gems is unrefined and rough around the edges. If that central performance could have held me, I might have had more positive things to say, but as I nearly laughed out loud during Sandler's big, emotional scene, I can safely say this one's not my diamond in the rough. If you can stand a nearly solid two hours of people screaming at each other, more power to you. I recommend skipping this one.

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