Chris Kavan's Movie Review of Uncut Gems

Rating of

Uncut Gems

Nearly Flawless
Chris Kavan - wrote on 03/08/20

Uncut Gems is not a pleasant film to watch - but it is quite effective at what it does. The Safdie Brothers don't hold back here, creating a film that is filled with tension and often feels quite claustrophobic but does so while being very loud - with creative use of language, city noise and music to create a cacophony of chaos. None of that would matter, however, if there wasn't a captivating story and characters to carry the load and lucky for us, Adam Sandler has taken this opportunity to turn in the greatest performance in his career. And he has some help - Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield, Julia Fox and, yes, even Kevin Garnett are all along for this dark, twisted ride.

Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a Jewish New York jeweler/gems dealer with a big mouth and an even bigger gambling debt. But Howard has a sure thing coming - an uncut Ethiopian black opal he hopes to sell at auction for over $1 million. But before he can do that, he must deal with Demany (Stanfield) who is responsible for shuffling a variety of clientele (rappers, sports stars and the like) to his shop - the most recent of which is basketball star Kevin Garnett (who plays himself). When the opal arrives, Garnett takes a shine to it. While Howard is very reluctant to part with his prize, he does so in order to fund a new sure thing bet - on Garnett himself.

But while Howard is dealing with Garnett, he's also dealing with a set of thugs sent by his Armenian brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian), with whom he is deeply in debt. Phil and Nico (Keith Williams Richards and Tommy Kominik) are your hard-core enforcers - and they are taking none of Howard's platitudes. An ultimatum is given and Howard finds himself in a very precarious situation, not helped by the fact he is constantly pawning things he doesn't own in order to support his bad habits.

Beyond gems and gambling, Howard has a family - even if his wife, Dinah (Menzel) is ready to leave him. His oldest son, Eddie (Jonathan Aranbayev) seems to be following in his father's footsteps, already betting while his youngest son, Beni (Jacob Igielski) is more or less innocent. His daughter, Marcel (Noa Fisher) barely speaks to him. Of course, it doesn't help his family life that he has a mistress on the side in Julia De Fiore (Fox), who is both an employee and lover (there is a hilariously dark subplot involving The Weeknd that fits perfectly with the tone of the film).

Trying to balance family with work with his gambling leads is like staring over the edge of the Grand Canyon on a crumbling ledge. Throughout the entire film, the tension just builds and builds as you realize that the best laid plans can come crashing down and you know Howard is not going to escape unscathed - nor those around him. Each step Howard takes in the right direction, he seems to take three more steps back.

Uncut Gems is not quite flawless, but it certainly stands with the best films of 2019. Even if the Oscars passed over Sandler, he deserved every other award he got. Ratner may be crass, loud and in over his head - but he is also a surprisingly sympathetic character, for all his flaws. You want him to win in the end, even if you know it's not to be. That's what makes this such a good film - it doesn't pull any punches and leaves you constantly tense from one moment to the next. It's a hard film to like but it's a great film to enjoy.

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Are you sure you want to delete this review?
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?