By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
From the Safdie Brothers, the talented filmmakers behind Good Time, comes another gem of a movie that literally recreates the stress, fear, and adrenaline rush of gambling. Their main character Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) lives his life by the seat of pants and constantly on the edge of his seat. It is a fascinating, frustrating and nerve-racking character study that often made me wonder, why in the world am I pulling for him? From his unrelenting pace to its joyful and disturbing moments, Uncut Gems is a breathtaking, rickety rollercoaster ride that constantly feels like it is all about to collapse underneath.
Howard Ratner is a charming, fast-talking Jewish jewelry store owner with a serious gambling problem. Already in major debt at the beginning of the story, Howard presses his luck constantly by continuing to make risky sports bets while trying to avoid and evade his creditors. Howard has an opportunity to make things better when he gets a hold of a large, multicolored opal from Ethiopia. Though he plans to sell it in a major auction, he takes a big risk by loaning it to customer and basketball superstar Kevin Garnett (himself) who becomes obsessed with the rock. What follows is a nightmare of stress and anxiety, while Ratner attempts to juggle the many facets of his already troubled life.
Written and directed by the Safdies, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein, Uncut Gems is an amazing film that grabs its audiences and won’t let them go until the ride is over. It really is a phenomenally mad experience that is sure to induce much stress and anxiety in its viewers. Much like other movies about addiction, the film is a cautionary tale that could possibly scare any chronic gambler straight. Much like a rollercoaster, the movie has it highs and lows that’ll leave its viewers with an adrenaline rush.
The movie features a phenomenal cast wbose members rarely keep the energy level from dissipating too much. Kevin Garnett, Indina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox and Eric Bogosian all give great performances. However, it is Adam Sandler who gives a performance of a lifetime as the likable, but at the same time hateful, Howard Ratner. Not since Punch Drunk Love have I seen such an amazing performance by the actor. It is a role that angrily asks Sandler, “What the hell is wrong with you?” and “Why don’t you make more movies like this?”
So, in a way Sandler has made me angry in more ways than one with this movie. Not only is his character maddening for all the insane risks he takes, but Sandler, the actor, also frustrates me that he has not made better movies in his career, given how genuinely talented he is. Anyway, regardless of what he does next, fans of his serious work will have to take what they can get. Should he make more movies like Punch Drunk Love and Uncut Gems everyone will be all the more better for it. Thankfully, the Safdies have made a phenomenal movie and convinced the bewildering Sandler to star in it. And oh does he shine so brightly in it!