Friday Film Review--"Uncut Gems"

Jan 17, 2020

Comedian Adam Sandler takes a dark, dramatic turn in the new crime thriller “Uncut Gems.”    Linda Jager is here with this week’s Friday Film Review.

Adam Sandler is almost unrecognizable in the new crime thriller "Uncut Gems". Dressed in flashy designer shirts and an outfitted with an impressive set of false teeth, Sandler plays Howard Ratner – a jewelry dealer, philanderer, avid basketball fan and compulsive gambler.

The film is set in New York City’s Diamond District where Ratner courts VIPs in his showroom selling them everything from jewel encrusted Furbie necklaces to fake Rolexes.

One day, as Ratner is waiting on Boston Celtics start Kevin Garnett (playing himself in the film) he receives delivery of a rare, uncut black opal from Ethiopia. Howard has dreams of auctioning the rare gem for millions, but Garnett becomes obsessed and is convinced the jewel will bring him luck on the basketball court. Giving Howard his NBA Championship ring as collateral, Garnett takes the opal for what is meant to be a one day loan.

Meanwhile, a pair of loan sharks are hounding Howard on behalf of his brother-in-law Arno (played by Eric Bogosian). To buy some time to repay Arno, Howard devises a scheme to use Garnett’s ring as collateral for a loan, then places a large and risky bet on the Celtics to win that evening’s playoff game in the hopes to not only cash in on his bet, but also be free and clear after auctioning the Ethiopian opal.

Howard’s personal life is equally as tenuous. He’s keeping a mistress (played by Julia Fox) – who also works in his showroom  - in his Manhattan apartment, while heading home to Long Island most evenings to his tough-as-nails wife (played convincingly by Idina Menzel of Disney’s “Frozen” fame). Things are already frosty with Howard and his wife, who plan to tell their kids they are divorcing after the upcoming Passover holiday.

The film is a wild ride as it follows Howard as he juggles keeping his loan sharks at bay, keeping is wife and kids happy, and keeping his mistress entertained, all while looking to cash in on the largest gamble of his career with the auctioning of the rare opal.

“Uncut Gems” is written and directed by the Safdie brothers – Josh and Benny – best known for their gritty and hard hitting Indie films.  The brothers, New Yorkers and sons of divorces parents, loosely based the film on their father’s time working in Manhattan’s Diamond District. Most of the 135-minute film is dark, with an occasional moment of Sandler’s comic persona.

The film was produced by Martin Scorsese, which gave the Safdie brothers a sizable budget to assemble a strong cast – which also includes veteran actor Judd Hirsch (who plays Howard’s father-in-law), and rapper The Weeknd (playing himself).

“Uncut Gems” is rated R for strong language, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use. Fans of Sandler should not expect the film to showcase his signature comedy, but rather a transformative performance that makes “Uncut Gems” a film worth watching.

This is Linda Jager with the KPCW Friday Film Review.