It took me two attempts to watch Uncut Gems as I couldn’t sit through the first viewing. This crime thriller about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a New York City jeweler and gambling addict who gets in way over his head with loan sharks does not live up to the hype. I was expecting to see an impressive, edgy, gritty independent film that would finally showcase Adam Sandler as a serious Oscar contender. Instead, I was subjected to a messy, agitating story with unlikable, unrepentant characters and a soundscape that just grated on my nerves.
I don’t understand the level of publicity this film is getting because nothing about it stands out in any meaningful way, other than the fact you have an actor known for his comedic roles doing a serious dramatic part. Maybe that’s all it takes to get people excited these days.
Uncut Gems begins with an accident at an Etheopian opal mine in 2010. While everybody is distracted by the events surrounding the injured miner, two workers see an opportunity to get hold of a rare and extremely valuable type of gemstone: a black opal. Jump forward two years and that black opal ends up in the hands of Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who haphazardly runs a jewelry store in New York’s Diamond District. Ratner lives and plays fast with large sums of money (not always his own) and is in debt to numerous different parties. Of main concern is the substantial amount of money he owes to Arno (Eric Bogosian), both his brother-in-law and a vicious loan shark who’s sick of waiting for Howard to deliver and has sent his thugs to come collecting.
Fortunately for Ratner, he’s come up with a smart plan to auction off his black opal for what he estimates is worth $1,000,000 – more than enough to fix up all his debts while leaving him with a tiny sum. Unfortunately for Ratner, he does the obviously not-so-smart thing of lending this problem solving, life-saving rock to basketball player Kevin Garnett (himself) who has become obsessed with it and wants to hold onto it for good luck for his game that night. From here on in, things obviously don’t go according to plan and we spend the rest of the movie watching Ratner make further idiotic choices to try to get his rock back while placing bets with money he can’t afford to lose.
If you think that this chaotic character with ridiculously poor decision-making is all an act and his character is actually a genius mastermind who is going to reveal his clever master plan by the end of it, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
This is my main gripe with Uncut Gems and why I hated watching it – what’s the deal with this story? Why is it being told? We’re watching a group of unsavory characters bumble along in a plot that essentially goes nowhere. There is no master plan. There is no clever twist. Why am I supposed to care about these characters who are all terrible people? They’re not trying to be better people and they’re not forced into their predicaments. These are people who’ve made very bad choices and not doing anything different to rectify the terrible situations they’ve found themselves in.
Ratner is actually incapable of doing anything to fix his situation and is at the mercy of watching a sports game on a TV screen in order to “fix” his problems. Honestly, when I’m in the audience watching a character on screen who’s watching a screen for the film’s finale, there’s a problem.
I keep hearing how Adam Sandler’s performance is Oscar worthy. It’s not. In an imaginary world where every actor had the comedic filmography of Adam Sandler then yes, you might call it Oscar worthy. But it’s just Adam Sandler taking on a serious role. He does a solid job playing such an unsavory character, despite the bad script, but it’s not brilliant. And while it’s probably a stretch for him as an actor given the type of roles he usually plays, he’s once again playing another character that is linked to sport.
He spends the majority of the movie just yelling loudly through his phone and at TV screens as he watches basketball. I’m not impressed. He’s certainly not in the acting arena of the likes of Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker, or James McAvoy in 2019’s Glass. I don’t get the hype.
Brother directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie (Good Time, Heaven Knows What), who also co-wrote the script with Ronald Bronstein, have made an irritating cinematic experience. What makes it such an irritating viewing experience are the unlikable characters, the story that’s not worth telling and the element that really stands out – the sound. Uncut Gems really showcases how important sound and music are in a film. The electronic soundtrack is so at odds with the rest of the film that it’s quite jarring. It stands out instead of complementing the visuals.
Speaking of bad sound design, there are too many scenes where multiple characters talk over each other in very chaotic moments that while it makes for a realistic scenario, it also makes it hard to understand what’s going on. Throw in Adam Sandler yelling throughout most of the film and it’s just a very awful auditory experience. I couldn’t wait for it to end.
Uncut Gems isn’t a film worthy of all the media attention it’s getting. It’s an irritating entertainment experience with, admittedly, some good moments and solid performances, but is ultimately let down by unlikable characters, a terrible script, awful sound and a final act that primarily revolves around Adam Sandler watching a basketball game. If I wanted to watch people watching screens as my form of entertainment I’d go and watch reaction videos on YouTube. Don’t believe the hype. This is a pass for me.