Uncut Gems - Movie Review

Adam Sandler and Julia Fox in Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler and Julia Fox in Uncut Gems(Julieta Cervantes | Uncut Gems)
Updated: Dec. 31, 2019 at 9:31 AM EST
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Uncut Gems – Movie Review

This bombastic, shrill exercise makes bold choices, unfortunately they are all the wrong the choices. Adam Sandler goes way out of his comfort zone to play obnoxious, loud, abrasive jeweler Howard Ratner; a compulsive gambler and adulterous loser who keeps hoping for the big win to settle all of his debts. He believes his bad luck has finally changed when he purchases a stone with opal gems imbedded in it. The stone was uncovered nine years earlier in a gem mine in Ethiopia. This is shown in a stylistic prologue that ties present day through a kaleidoscope visual sequence that hints that the stone (uncut gems, get it) has some kind of mystical powers that work mysteriously in our great big universe. Nice try here.

From the beginning the sound design and controversial discordant score by Daniel Lopitan unnerve the viewer and underline Howard’s life: chaotic and tumultuous. It also sets the tone for the mayhem of the New York City diamond district; ruthless and jarring. Add in the realistic profane laden continually overlapping dialogue (the N word is tossed out frequently)-which is delivered as shouting and you have a cacophonous symphony that will either unsettle you and create anxiety or bore you to tears. Another interesting stylistic choice is the cinematography which has the look of a 1970’s urban landscape.

NBA star Kevin Garnett plays himself as a potential customer that Howard’s partner Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) brings to the shop. Kevin takes a liking to the stone and wants to “hold it overnight” in exchange for his Celtic championship ring. Howard, desperate for money, in turn pawns the ring to score cash, not to pay back debt, as he should, but to place a go for broke bet. Just one bad decision in a series of bad decisions Howard makes. Recording artist/star The Weekend also plays his real self in a silly subplot in a nightclub scene involving Howard’s employee and mistress, Julia, played well here by Julia Fox; although why a beautiful young girl like Julia would hook up with an incredibly annoying unattractive jerk, like Howard is not understood, at least by me. Even Howard’s wife, Dinah, played by the very good Tony Award winning actress, Idinia Menzel, thinks Howard is the most annoying person she ever met. We feel her pain. Eric Bogosian and Judd Hirsch are great assets to the supporting cast, and certainly add authenticity to the detailed New York Jewish life.

There is relentlessness to the story and Howard’s pathetic life that never becomes resonant; rather it all becomes pointless and numbing. We care nothing for him and his schemes. It is all done at one note-LOUD. The same can be said for Sandler’s performance. On one hand he should be commended for playing such an unlikeable loser and he does lose himself in the role. But it is hard to distinguish if Sandler is overacting or if his character is just written so big that he is doing a great job at playing him. The fact that we have no character empathy for him may not be entirely his fault. There is an attempt at a moment of truth after Howard takes a beating from his creditors when he realizes everything he touches is a disaster, and he cannot do anything right. But that is quickly followed by another bad decision and him behaving like a jerk again. If only there were some hint as why winning and being rich were so important to him, it might negate his repulsiveness as a horrible husband, father and person.

Brothers Benny and Josh Safdie are co-writers and co-directors of Uncut Gems and as filmmakers they have been much heralded, including an inexplicable win as best directors at the notoriously picky New York Film Critics Circle Awards this year, for this film! Perhaps they believe a film with nasty characters, that manages to be both anti-Semitic and racist and portrays the jewelry/diamond industry as greedy and reprehensible is artistic honesty, but I think this is a pretentious mess. I wish I had brought ear plugs, and then perhaps I wouldn’t have left with such a thundering headache.

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