“Uncut Gems”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Brothers and co-directors Josh and Benny Safdie are two of the most exciting names working in modern independent cinema, so their film “Uncut Gems” debuted alongside a shadow of grandiose expectations. The bottom line is that the film is good but far from great, and I’m comfortable going out on a limb and guessing those crowing the loudest about how fresh and original this movie is haven’t seen their far superior 2017 film, “Good Time.”

New York City jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is always on the lookout for the next big score. When he makes a series of high stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime, Howard finds himself struggling to keep the balance between the growing list of adversaries, his business, his scams, and his home life. There isn’t much to the story other than a lot of cursing and ongoing scams, but there’s a decent sense of suspense that carries through the majority of the film.

The most shocking thing about “Uncut Gems” is that it lacks depth, especially when compared to “Good Time.” It’s not unfair to compare the two films, as each portray a gritty side of the city with antiheros who are close to completely hitting the skids. An effective crime thriller should have a lead character you can at least root for if not relate to, and Howard isn’t it. Sandler’s character is an irritating scumbag and while I guess that’s what he was going for in his performance, it’s shrill and unpleasant to spend time around this loser. I didn’t really care to see the end of Howard’s story because by the time it rolled around, I was completely worn down by his repeated poor decisions.

Here’s what happens in the film: Howard lies, gets cash, gambles it away, extends himself, gets a beating / stern warning / workplace visit from goons, then lies, gets cash, gambles it away, extends himself, and gets another beat down / visit from more goons. It’s an exhausting repetition of watching a sleazy scumbag spiraling out of control by digging himself deeper into a hole. His cycle of poor decisions is coupled with an indestructible optimism of a life-changing big score. Why should I care about somebody like that?

Sandler is good in the lead role, but much of the praise seems to be coming from the fact that, after a career in comedy films, his performance is unexpected. He’s a talented man, but he’s been even better in other, smaller films (like Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories”). Howard is a loud, crude, unpleasant man to spend time with, but Sandler inhabits the role as a shady jewelry dealer and degenerate gambler in a way that lends the slightest glimmer of humanity to an otherwise detestable character.

The film plays like a hardcore, taxing Scorsese ripoff. It’s not very exciting, and the tension that does exist feels forced. The direction is more conventional than the material suggests, but major applause to the Safdie brothers for conveying their clear vision and having the courage to stick with it. They’ve started to corner the cinematic market on adapting the gritty side of New York for a modern era. I don’t feel the Safdies are as overrated as some other critics do, but I do think this film is bloated in all the wrong ways.

13 comments

    1. He did see it, he didn’t like it and didn’t really want to bother with writing a review. The film really divides people, that’s for sure! I wanted to love it because I absolutely adored “Good Time,” but little about “Uncut Gems” worked for either of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Additionally, your blanket assumption that “those crowing the loudest about how fresh and original this movie is haven’t seen their far superior 2017 film, “Good Time.”” is objectively wrong (yes, I’m using the word “objectively”), because some of “Uncut Gems”‘s most popular reviews say it’s even better than that particular film:

    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/jan/09/uncut-gems-review-adam-sandler-idina-menzel

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Additionally, your blanket statement that “those crowing the loudest about how fresh and original this movie is haven’t seen their far superior 2017 film, “Good Time.” is objectively wrong, as some of Uncut Gems’s most popular reviews state that it’s even better than “Time”. Just Google Chris Stuckmann’s and Peter Bradshaw’s reviews to see what I mean by that. [I initially tried linking to them, but that got my comment removed, so I guess that isn’t something I can do here. Oh well.]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the removed comment just showed up again, and it says “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” (even though I first published it more than 6 hours ago). If you’re reading this, Louise, please publish that particular comment, and remove the reposted one and this reply. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Sandler’s character is an irritating scumbag and while I guess that’s what he was going for in his performance, it’s shrill and unpleasant to spend time around this loser.” What’s interesting about that (at least, to me) is that “Good Time”‘s protagonist, besides loving his brother, didn’t have many redeemable qualities either (particularly when he literally seems to be on the verge of having sex with an underage girl to distract her), yet that film got a much higher rating from you. What compelling qualities did you feel Connie Nikas had that Howard Ratner just didn’t?

    Like

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