You are going to hate Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), the uncouth, loud-mouthed, unfaithful husband, bad father, lying, cheating, deeply in debt New York jeweler at the rapidly beating heart of the Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems” (A24). But you only have to live with him for the length of the two hour and fifteen-minute movie.
In “Uncut Gems” we go deep inside Howard’s rapidly unraveling world, beginning with his onscreen colonoscopy. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Falasha miners discover a massive uncut black opal that Howard somehow manages to lay claim to inspired by his interest in a program he saw on television about African Jews in Ethiopia, on one of the rare nights he wasn’t watching a basketball game.
Arriving at his diamond district showroom, Howard’s confronted by a pair of loan collecting goons, sent by Arno (Eric Bogosian), who also happens to be his brother-in-law. Howard, who has borrowed a substantial sum of gambling money from Arno, finds himself to be irredeemably in debt to him. But Howard’s fortunes could change in the blink of an eye. The delivery of the uncut black opal, smuggled on ice in a box of fish (no joke), has him seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
At the same time, Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), who is one step above a street hustler, and whose working relationship with Howard involves him bringing in clients, as well as fencing some of his own high-priced items, introduces the jeweler to Kevin Garnett (playing himself) of the Boston Celtics. Howard gets double the pleasure from the experience because he’s a sports fanatic (especially when it comes to gambling), and he also knows how to sell expensive products to people with disposable income.
Here is where Howard makes the first big mistake that sets the twisting, turning, spinning and plunging roller coaster in motion. He agrees to let KG take the uncut opal (he feels a spiritual connection to the stone) for the night because the baller thinks it will bring him good luck. He leaves a diamond and emerald encrusted championship ring behind as collateral, but it’s value can’t compare to that of the opal.
Additionally, Howard continues to make bets with money he doesn’t have. At home, his wife Dinah (an especially sour Idina Menzel), threatens to move up the date of their planned post-Passover divorce if he doesn’t spend more time with his sons. After some half-assed bonding, Howard heads to his pied a terre where his mistress (and employee) Julia (Julia Fox) awaits his arrival. They celebrate one of Howard’s rare gambling wins.
But the party is short-lived. Suddenly, KG has become scarce, along with the uncut opal, putting the auction Howard had planned in serious jeopardy. A schemer from the word go, Howard’s efforts to keep all the balls in the air include suckering his father-in-law Gooey (Judd Hirsch) into becoming financially tied to him. To make matters worse, Arno’s sharks have run out of patience with Howard leading to an edge-of-the-seat confrontation and finale that is difficult to shake.
Whether you love or hate Sandler, his bid to be taken seriously in “Uncut Gems” pays off. It’s the most nuanced and unexpected performance of his career, earning him awards and nominations galore. Sandler fans going to see “Uncut Gems” expecting to laugh, will be disappointed. Instead, they will see an actor coming into his own.
-is the author of “Fifty Degrees” (Seven Kitchens, 2016), co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections “How to Whistle” (Lethe Press, 2016) and “Lincoln Avenue” (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook “GREGG SHAPIRO: 77” (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection “Protection” (Gival Press, 2008). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog k.d.