Pardon me for saying this, but just what is with all the hate for Uncut Gems? Sure, it deservedly got showered with all sorts of critical praise and box office winnings, but audience reviews on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes aren’t nearly as enthusiastic. Their main complaints include a) the nonstop swearing, b) the constant yelling and arguing, and c) how gleefully dark and abrasive the whole thing is. I get what they’re saying, but what else did they expect from the Safdie Brothers, directors of unflinchingly rough fare like Good Time and Heaven Knows What?
The opening scene is pure arthouse: a massive rock containing precious black opals is hacked out of a cave in Ethopia, and the camera travels inside its very core, sweeping around its breathtaking nooks and crannies before finally pulling out to reveal… a colonoscopy performed on our main character, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler, who’s surprisingly fantastic here).
Howard is a compulsive gambler with dangerous loan sharks after him at every turn, even showing up at his daughter’s school play to harass him into paying them back. Meanwhile, the aforementioned rock is smuggled to his jewelry store, KMH, in a massive container of fish, glistening with gorgeous greens and blues.
Once Celtics basketball player Kevin Garnett (superbly playing himself—except for that opener, the film is entirely set in 2012, when he was still playing for the NBA) lays his eyes on it, he insists on borrowing the precious object for good luck, even temporarily giving Howard his Celtics ring in return. Howard, of course, pawns the ring for money, which he entirely gambles on Garnett doing well on the court that night.
This leads to an escalating, unpredictable series of events that, much to the disapproval of typical Sandler fans, are loud, unrelenting, in-your-face… and incredibly gripping because of all three. Howard is an intensely dislikable person (the fact that I often felt more sympathy for the violent debt collectors than him really says it all), but you always want to follow him, see what he’s going to do next, and find out how everything in his life (including an adulterous relationship with a KMH employee) is going to end. And even with it already being spoiled for me (thanks, Internet), the ending of this film still gut-punched me like no other.
Despite explicitly being set in the 21st century, Uncut Gems’s gritty cinematography and dazzling electronic score lends it a more 1970s/80s aesthetic. This stunning mix of both old and new has understandably also been taken issue with by some, but just makes the film (ahem) sparkle even more for me, albeit in a very offbeat way.
Certainly, those anticipating just another stupid The Waterboy-esque comedy due to Sandler being in the lead role were vastly disappointed, but the fact that such a daring, unusual cautionary tale would get completely get ignored by the Academy (not even a “Best Original Score” nom? What is wrong with you people?) is just shameful. I obviously can’t recommend Uncut Gems to everybody, but give it a chance, and you might just enjoy this strange, hectic ride of a movie.