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Uncut Gems (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Uncut Gems


Starring Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch, Keith Williams Richards, Mike Francesa, Jonathan Aranbayev, Noa Fisher, Abel Tesfaye, Jacob Igielski, Paloma Elsesser, Tommy Kominik, Louis Anthony Arias, Benjy Kleiner, Josh Ostrovsky, Sahar Bibiyan, Lana Levitin, Pom Klementieff, John Amos and The Weeknd.

Screenplay by Ronald Bronstein and Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie.

Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie.

Distributed by A24. 135 minutes. Rated R.

I can’t believe I fell for it again.

Every few years, you start to hear the buzz: Adam Sandler is collaborating with some real filmmakers and taking on a serious dramatic role. Sure, his comedies mostly suck, but this role will be a revelation.

However, it never seems to turn out that way. Punch-Drunk Love was an oddball bore. Spanglish wasn’t a bad film, but Sandler was the weak link in an otherwise decent film. Funny People was nearly unbearable, as was Men, Women & Children. I have never seen Reign Over Me, and I can pretty safely say that I never will.

Which brings us to Uncut Gems. I must admit that had some concerns when I went into the screening, knowing my history with Adam Sandler films. However, I also had some cautious optimism because I had read a bit about the film and the storyline sounded interesting, and it seemed like Sandler was really trying to stretch out in the role.

Boy, was I wrong! I can’t tell you how much I hated Uncut Gems, and it mostly directly stemmed from Sandler and his character.

It turned out that Howard Ratner is the epitome of a Sandler character: a brash, immature, compulsive, abrasive asshole. He’s the type of person that you would cross the street to avoid running into. Hell, he’s the type of person that you would cross the country to avoid. Even his name points out what a rodent he is.

In the one scene that I truly related to in Uncut Gems, his wife – played by Idina Menzel – told Howard, “You are the most annoying person on the planet. I hate you.” Hallelujah, Mrs. Ratner.

Ratner is a fast-talking New York Jeweler’s Row bottom feeder and compulsive gambler always looking for an angle; selling phony Rolexes, pawning his customer’s jewelry, while he avoids his loan-shark’s leg breakers. (Irony alert, his frustrated loan shark – played by Eric Bogosian – is his brother-in law.)

Any money he comes across he gambles away. Any customer he befriends he tries to cheat. He aggressively courts celebrities and sports figures. Former Boston Celtic star Kevin Garnett has a significant role playing himself, for some reason spending lots of time in New York despite being in the middle of a fictional Boston-Philadelphia national championship series.

And you know what? Howard is such a massive dick that the audience can’t help but think that he deserves all the crap that happens to him. More to the point, his gambling addiction, his amorality and his complete lack of sense leads directly to every huge setback that he lives through.

It is not impossible to make a film about an unlikable protagonist. In many ways, the role of Howard is very reminiscent of James Caan’s character in the mid-70s cult film The Gambler. However, no matter how big of a jerk Caan was playing, you could find some sympathy for him and he was a somewhat charismatic loser.

It is impossible to feel any sympathy for Howard. The audience is silently rooting for his every get-rich-quick scheme to fail and for every character who crosses his path to punch him in the face.

That’s it. I’m drawing the line. I will never again fall for the myth that Adam Sandler has the ability to be a subtle, intense, slow-burn dramatic actor. At least with his comedies – which are mostly straight-to-Netflix at this point – you know what you are getting. It will be bad, Rob Schneider will show up at some point, and you will have completely forgotten it by the time you wake up the next morning.

His dramatic roles are somehow much more disappointing because you have been led to believe there will be some quality work done here, and when it inevitably is absent you can’t help but feel hoodwinked. You know Albert Einstein’s old axiom: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. I’m no longer going to allow Adam Sandler to drive me insane.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: December 13, 2019.

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