Uncut Gems is an aggressive and stressful film that you should make sure to spend time with.
Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a classic wheeler and dealer with a dangerous gambling streak. He spends his time making trades, begging and borrowing, and avoiding the heavies who are coming to claim his owner debt. His personal life is no better than his financial. Separated from his wife (played by the ever charismatic Idina Menzel, who owns her part) he’s still pretending to live there for the kids. In reality, he’s sharing a loft in the city with his younger employee (newcomer Julia Fox). Their relationship is volatile, she parties, he’s jealous, but there seems to be a genuine love and trust between the two.
Howard is convinced he’s just one big win away from fixing all his problems, and this big win is coming in the form of an uncut black opal. The plan is to sell it at auction for a 5 figure sum, but in a series of hi-jinks, the gem ends up out of his control for the majority of the film. Howard’s desperation increases and he starts to borrow more money, trade more jewellery and get in even more trouble. The sequence at his daughters high school play is a thing of beauty, and Sandler plays it with a delicate balance of calm and collected and utterly lost.
It’s hard to give too much detail of the plot without spoiling things, other than to say it’s fast yet mundane, engaging yet entirely stressful. New Yorker swing is in full flow with screaming matches in the street, screaming matches in the office, screaming matches at home. So much screaming and so much swearing.
At times it can feel like the story is ambling and that the directors are having too much time in this world they’ve created. It’s easily done, as they’ve created a vast 2012 New York with enjoyable players, you could easily spend more time with each character. There are some plot points that drift off and are never fully finished, but the third and final act is strong enough to make the pay off more than worth it. If a film can make me care about a Sandler character, and care about a basketball game? It’s done it’s job and done it well.
Unfortunately the grand claims of Sandler winning Oscars for this performance don’t look like they’re going to come true. For me, I was never completely able to forget I was watching Adam Sandler, however it’s his best performance in years. He fully commits and the script gives him plenty to chew on. At times it borders on the parody, but this feels completely intentional and in line with the mess of a man Howard has become.
The other actors keep themselves in line, lifting Sandler’s performance but equally giving him enough to play back with. In fact, their watchful gazes often say so much more about the real situation unfolding than Howard’s rambling monologues.
Uncut Gems is a strange one for me. Considering it stars one of my least favourite actors and large parts of the film centre around sports and betting, the fact that I was still engaged throughout and enraptured in the final third clearly show it’s strengths. It’s a slightly low rating from me, but I can guarantee audiences will be gushing about it once it hits Netflix this month.