Thursday, December 12, 2019

Movie with Abe: Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems
Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie
Released December 13, 2019

The diamond industry is one that attracts a good deal of business, and buyers are often willing to pay a lot of money to get what they think is worth it. The value of a piece of jewelry can be highly subjective, and it may be that a story about the origins of a stone can sell someone more than its actual physical appearance. That can be dangerous both for those who invest too much in presenting something that ultimately won’t sell for anywhere near what they hope and for those who overpay for something unextraordinary and find themselves stuck with something they wish they had never bought.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) operates a jewelry store in New York City and is deep in debt to everyone he works with, trading in each dollar he makes for the opportunity to win big on a sports game. His latest obsession is a stone from Ethiopia that he believes is worth one million dollars, and his plans to sell it at auction are disrupted when basketball player Kevin Garnett asks to borrow it for good luck. Howard’s already fragile life begins to implode as he risks losing everything, both professionally and personally, and tries desperately to balance his mistress (Julia Fox) and wife (Idina Menzel).

This is Sandler’s first sincere dramatic foray since “Punch-Drunk Love” more than a decade and half ago. It’s especially impressive since it still includes plenty of comedy, but Sandler manages to craft an entirely different character than the ones that fans have come to expect from him. He proves that he’s absolutely the right person for this role, so committed to the energy that Howard displays as he makes bad decision after bad decision, compelling somehow despite the absolute recklessness with which he conducts himself. It should be difficult to like him, yet there’s something endearing as conveyed by Sandler’s surprisingly layered turn, complicated further by Fox and Menzel playing strongly off him.

This marks this reviewer’s third experience with directing brothers Benny and Josh Safdie after “Daddy Longlegs” and “Heaven Knows What,” and while it’s a substantial improvement over those two, it’s still an odd specimen to digest. It works best when it’s mimicking a sports game, with the clock seemingly running out and impossible odds building against our broken hero. At other times, it’s simply bizarre and off-putting, likely more appealing to those who know Garnett and appreciate the opportunity to see him portray himself on screen. When Sandler is featured, it’s hard to look away, making it seem like this inarguably creative portrait is truly worthwhile.


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