Uncut Gems

At the Movies Blog

This movie and Jojo Rabbit were the two movies I was looking forward to the most this year. That’s because Rabbit was done by Taika Waititi, who has done films I’ve loved. Uncut Gems was done by the Safdie Brothers, who did one of my favorite movies of 2017 — Good Time (Robert Pattenson). 

That might be why I was so disappointed in this.

The Safdies seem to like the antihero, but in this, Howard Ratner is just such scum, it’s hard to become invested in his plight. And for everyone saying this is the best performance of Adam Sandler’s career — I’ll take him in Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People over this (he also showed his serious side most recently in The Meyerowitz Stories). He was good in this, but the performance was rather one-note.

Ratner is a jeweler in the Diamond District of New York, and also a gambling addict. When he walks down the streets of New York, it’s with the confidence of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. Even when he’s running business in his shop, he wheels-and-deals, while flirting, and politely telling NBA star Kevin Garnett (who plays himself), not to lean on the glass case. Yet for some reason, he doesn’t have any logic in the other endeavors of his life. One could argue that’s what happens when you have an addiction, but the Safdies don’t explore the addictive side. And there are lots of characters in this that seem to lack logic in their decisions.

Ratner thinks his ship has finally come in. Well, his shipment, anyway. The movie started in a scene reminiscent of There Will Be Blood’s opening. Miners in Ethiopia are injured, and few bandits make off with a rare black opal. Ratner has it shipped to him and once he sells it, he can pay off the bookies, loan sharks (one of them played by the very talented Eric Borgnosian; there are a few scenes with Judd Hirsch as the father, which was a pleasant surprise). Perhaps a big score can save his marriage; or buy something nice for his mistress.

Although I didn’t care for The Lighthouse, I loved how annoying the foghorn and score added to the craziness. In this, the new-age sounding score (which was rather intriguing), mixed with sounds of the shop and yelling voices, just makes one anxious. And I guarantee that’s what the Safdies were after, but…I don’t need a movie to end with me feeling exhausted and with higher blood pressure. Unless the payoff was worth it. Instead, this isn’t a very interesting character study. It’s just a low-life make one bad decision after another.

When I was at a dinner/screening of this movie in L.A. with the cast, Idina Menzel (Frozen) talked about how she ad-libbed a scene where she pretended to punch Sandler in the face. The Safdies said stuff like that makes them look like better writers. What I wanted to ask Menzel was, if she was disappointed that she was underutilized. Especially since Julia Fox (who plays the mistress) has some interesting scenes and a bit of an arc. 

Martin Scorsese was the executive producer, and at times, it felt like one of his movies, or perhaps Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (although I may just think that because a few times Sandler seemed to channel an Al Pacino on steroids).

I’m reluctant to give away the many flaws in the movie, because they’re spoilers. Let’s just say…situations happen that would never have happened.

I’m also reluctant to delve too much into the plot because the situation that transpires with Garnett is a lot more fun if you don’t know where it’s going. And even though many aspects of this film are predictable, what happens with his NBA championship ring, was a fun surprise.

The movie does have some comedic moments that worked well. I loved a line where Ratner says, “I happen to be a litigious individual.”

It also had some realistic touches that were brilliant. One of them involves a few thugs slapping Ratner around for not making a payment. His glasses end up in a fountain and he’s in a panic looking for them.

Another time, the heavies have him in the backseat of a car (this is shown in the trailers). They want to know where their money is, and one of them is upset he can’t afford to pay them but had his pool resurfaced. Ratner angrily responds, “I didn’t resurface my pool. Who said that?”

Such a cleverly done scene, but it’s followed by something that happens with the character that makes absolutely no sense.

There’s a section of the movie that involves an auction house, and I don’t buy a second of what is done with that segment.

I loved the opening and ending of the film, and how they bookend nicely. In fact, the last 15 minutes of this is outstanding. Incredible cinematographer Darius Khondji (Seven, Midnight in Paris, Okja, The Lost City of Z) had taken us inside the stone and a colonoscopy to start, and at the end…well, you should see it for yourself. I may have been a bit disappointed overall, but I’d bet the house (as Howard Ratner would), that you’ll enjoy it. It might be a diamond in the rough, but it’s certainly interesting. It makes me want to see Sandler play a timeshare salesman.

Now, the Safdie’s better give us more character development next time around.

What a weird year. Who would have thought two goofball comedians from Saturday Night Live, might both be nominated for Oscars for “best actor” (Sandler will for this, and Eddie in Dolemite Is My Name).

2 ½ stars out of 5. It gets an extra half star for having the funniest cameo of the year with John Amos.




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