Uncut Gems (2019) – Film Review
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Cast: Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox
by Roger Crow / @RogerCrow
Africa, 2010, and Ethiopian miners retrieve a rare black opal. Two years later, New York gambling addict and jewellery store owner Howard Ratner is struggling to pay off gambling debts. He owes $100,000 to his loan shark brother-in-law Arno, his home life is divided between estranged wife Dinah, and his mistress Julia, who works at his shop.
Howard has ordered the Ethiopian opal and plans to auction it for $1m. However, when he shows it to basketball player Kevin Garnett, the latter becomes obsessed, insisting on holding onto it for good luck at his game that night. Howard agrees, accepting Garnett’s NBA ring as collateral.
Now at this point, any normal person would lock that in a safe, but not Howard. He pawns the ring and bets on Garnett playing well in that night’s game.
It’s at this point you realise Ratner is a disaster waiting to happen. (Apparently his name is not an in-joke connected to Gerald, the namesake Brit jeweller who torpedoed his career with an ill-judged statement).
What unfolds is a nailbiting, edge-of-the-seat thriller following the anti hero down a rabbit hole of dodgy deals, messed up relationships and a third act so brilliantly constructed, it feels like Goodfellas with basketball and precious gems thrown in. (I can only imagine what exec producer Martin Scorsese made of the result).
The movie could have been made 45 years ago with Al Pacino in the lead. The fact it’s Adam Sandler as Ratner is remarkable. This is a guy who only made one critically acclaimed offering (Punch Drunk Love), and a string of hit-and-miss comedies, from the decent The Wedding Singer to the awful Jack and Jill (with Pacino).
Like Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan in Sexy Beast, or Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, this is one of those career-defining performances. Sandler is on screen most of the time and steals every scene he’s in, though solid support comes from Idina Menzel, the ever reliable Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian, and alluring newcomer Julia Fox.
It’s a powerhouse production which will still be in many a critic’s top 10 at the end of the decade.
To use an obvious comparison, Uncut Gems has many facets, and none shine brighter than Sandler. Given the fact this project has been in development for a decade, it’s testament to the Safdie brothers, Josh and Benny, that they managed to deliver one of the best films of the year. Oh, and great to see one of the best cinematographers in the business Darius Khondji (Se7en/Alien Resurrection) still delivering the goods.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off for a lie down. It’s that exhausting.