film & game reviews, the retro way.
Directed by the Safdie brothers, 2019's Uncut Gems was a surprise critical hit starring Adam Sandler in a slightly less comedic role as a jewelry store owner who struggles to manage his gambling debts and everything else in his life.
We follow Howard Ratner (Sandler) through a couple of extremely stressful days where everything seems to go wrong for him, despite his many desperate attempts at fixing the trouble he's in. Between his loan-shark brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his goons constantly breathing down his neck, along with others he owes money to, plus his new precious gem going M.I.A. after he lends it to a star basketball player for the night, not to mention his messy home life, Howard's string of bad, risky calls makes his life a living hell and it's hard to imagine any of this ending particularly well.
Like a kind of cross between Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans and Punch-Drunk Love, Uncut Gems throws everything at its main character, who appears to be spiralling down deeper and deeper, and the film lets you sit there and observe, like putting an ant under a magnifying glass, anticipating the inevitable disaster. The only thing that can save Howard being one big, lucky bet or selling his new gem for an exorbitant amount at auction, you're never convinced he can pull off any of it but you're also never sure whether he might crack and get rid of all his problems another way. In fact, this is a hugely frustrating film, in part, because Howard is infuriating throughout, with even his wife calling him too annoying at one point, and this will either make or break the film for you.
There's an intensity to Uncut Gems that makes it never dull. This is a rollercoaster ride that could crash at any moment and it is somewhat hypnotic. Adam Sandler does a great job at presenting a character that's both endearing in his schmuckiness but also irritating as he goes from one bad decision to another, never getting quite as angry as you'd expect him to get. You can't help but want to scream at him the same way everyone else does and this will make the film too much of a chore for some but this is exactly the kind of reaction an addict, whether it's gambling or something else, would prompt and Uncut Gems captures that very well.
It's hard to deny that Uncut Gems is one of Sandler's best in a long while and is a good film in its own right. It delivers exactly the right amount of stress the plot demands and the explosive ending is worth sticking around for. It falls just short of greatness, however, as one can't help but feel that the film could have said and meant a lot more by fleshing out its potential subtexts and toning down the shouting/swearing/camera twirling long enough to allow us to dig deeper into these characters and what the gem represents.
Still, very good.