A Review: Uncut Gems
“That movie was good,” my boyfriend says as we walk out of the movie theater into the frigid January air. “What did you think?”
“Um…” I offer no more words than that and my boyfriend chuckles. My head is still ringing with the chaos of auditory and visual stimulation that I have sat through for the last two and a half hours.
Uncut Gems is a good movie. That I can concede. I can recognize the quality of writing, acting, casting, set design, and directing that the film offers. Adam Sandler perfectly portrays the near-completely unsympathetic and irritating Howard (Howie) Ratner, a jeweler in New York. Idina Menzel is beyond believable as Howie’s embittered and (somewhat) empowered wife on the tail end of a failing marriage. The rest of the cast is filled with talented acting veterans and first timers. LaKieth Stanfield is Howie’s sometimes friend and beleaguered business associate, Demany. Eric Bogosian plays Howie’s brother-in-law, Arno. Julia Fox plays Howie’s girlfriend and employee, Julia. And Kevin Garnet makes an impressive performance as… himself.
The movie takes place in New York in 2012 and we are immersed in 8-year-old vernacular, music, technology, and fashion. Howie receives an important package which contains a large black opal that he has spent a long time tracking down. He plans to sell the opal at auction, expecting to get well over a million dollars for it. If this movie were a cartoon, Howie’s eyes would perpetually have dollar signs flashing in them. Kevin Garnet, who has come at Demany’s behest to peruse Howie’s diamonds and Demany’s watches, insists on keeping the opal overnight after Howie lets Garnet see it. Howie begrudgingly agrees.
Meanwhile, Howie has successfully dodged a pair of menacing muscled men, who we later find out are sent by Arno to collect the money Howie owes him. Very quickly, we learn Howie’s problems with money which include not only a large amount of debt, but an impulsive gambling problem. Howie continuously brushes off Arno’s men with promises that his schemes will soon offer him large returns. These returns, however, do not produce the large amounts of money that Howie expected. His opal is appraised at the auction for a fraction of what he originally thought, and when he tries to fix the bidding by having his father bid to push up the price, the scheme fails and he is left without money and still in possession of the opal.
Finally, Howie contacts Garnet and settles on a deal to sell him the opal and we think that Howie will now be able to pay off Arno. Instead, Howie immediately places all the money from the opal onto the Celtics and Kevin Garnet. He watches the game fanatically as Arno and his men are trapped between the security doors. Kevin Garnet’s superstition surrounding the opal is affecting his game, and he is playing better than ever. In what seems like the highest and most triumphant point of the movie, the Celtics win and Howie wins over a million dollars.
As Howie releases Arno, one of his men pulls a gun on Howie and shoots him in the face. The man threatens Arno, and when he tries to flee, he shoots Arno as well. Then the two men loot the store. The camera zooms steadily in on Howie’s face, and continues into the bullet wound, where the gore slowly morphs into images of the galaxy and finally the brilliant colors of the opal.
The movie overall is an uncomfortable viewing experience. The scenes are chaotic, with the characters crowding into small rooms, the camera views sometimes restricted, and the dialogue obscured as the characters talk over each other in loud brazen voices. The effect is overwhelming and irritating and there were times in the movie that I wanted to tell Howie to just shut up. The irritation with Howie’s character does not stop at his dialogue but continues to his actions as well. Howie repeatedly makes the same mistakes throughout the movie, burrowing deeper into trouble every time his is offered an out. There were many times throughout the movie that Howie could have sold the opal and paid Arno, but his arrogance and greed kept him going back to gambling or holding out on certain money for the promise of potential riches.
The irritation spreads to some of the other characters as well. I found myself rolling my eyes at Howie’s girlfriend, who ends up tattooing Howie’s name onto her hip after they have a fight and break up. I was impatient with Arno, who at the beginning was made to seem like a menacing figure but did not really have it in him to seriously harm his brother-in-law.
But here’s the most annoying part. It is this irritation that I experienced that makes the movie so good. Without the talents of the actors, directors, and writers, this movie would not have evoked such strong emotional responses. Howie’s demeanor, his actions, and the performance from Adam Sandler give a depressing, yet completely believable portrait of a man who is spiraling out of control; who is completely pitiable; and who I felt slightly sorry was killed. Or maybe that feeling was guilt over not feeling sorry. And in the end, Howie’s character had to die. He was given so many chances to change but he never did, never broke free of the cycle and finally his chances ran out.
Is Uncut Gems and enjoyable movie to watch? No. It is about as comfortable as wearing a wool sweater in Florida in July. But is it a good movie? Does it offer a complete and believable snapshot into a strange and deplorable man’s life? Is the artistic and technical skill presented in this movie impressive and evocative?