Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Filmmaking brothers Benny and Josh Safdie broke out of obscurity in 2017 with their crime thriller Good Time, starring Robert Pattinson. It may not have been a blockbuster, but was a big enough hit to allow them the freedom to make whatever they wanted to next. The result is Uncut Gems, an intense look at the underworld of gambling and high priced gems, featuring a performance by Adam Sandler that many have praised as Oscar-worthy. The talent of the Safdie brothers and Sandler are definitely on full display, but the movie is such an intense high-wire act that it actually feels more exhausting than entertaining.
Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a fast-talking jewel dealer who services the wealthiest clients, including high-end celebrities. He is also a man with a gambling addiction whose recent failures in that arena have him on the verge of bankruptcy or worse. His latest bid to get himself out of the hole is the purchase of an uncut opal from Ethiopia that he hopes to sell for as much as one million dollars, thus putting all his financial worries behind him.
When NBA star Kevin Garnett comes into his office, Howard shows off the opal and Garnett immediately declares it to be his good luck charm. When Howard refuses to sell the stone to the basketball star, Garnett convinces Howard to let him borrow the stone for that night’s playoff game and leaves him his NBA championship ring as collateral. Howard then immediately sells the ring in order to make a big bet that he hopes will win him enough to get the brutish goons pursuing him off his back. When his plan goes sideways, Howard must frantically search for a new option.
Sandler is extremely good in the movie. The Safdie brothers clearly knew how to play to his strengths when they were writing the part for him. His character is loud and does a lot of yelling, which is something that has always been a part of Sandler’s repertoire. And visually it is a very good look for the actor, with the dark glasses and darker goatee. He has never looked less goofy and more down to business than he does in this movie. Kevin Garnett also delivers one of the more unique performances by an athlete. It is interesting to think of him referring to the basketball as “the rock” in an interview and the Safdie’s seeing that and thinking “what if he was talking about an actual rock?”
The music is also a highlight in this movie. The score sounds like something you might have heard in a 1980s nightclub, very electric and pulsing. The music often overpowers the action and the dialogue, which is clearly intentional. It is part of the movie’s effort to put the audience in the shoes of its lead character, a stressful, intense position in which the result of a basketball tip-off might be the difference between him living or dying.
The most challenging aspect of the movie for some viewers, including this one, is that it does too well of a job of putting the audience in that position, a position not everyone wants to be in. Howard is being constantly hounded from all sides, including the gamblers looking for payment, the pressure from Garnett and his crew, and even his estranged family. There is a lot of shouting in this movie, angry or otherwise, which makes it a bit of an anxiety test. The movie puts the pressure on heavy and never lets up. The audience is too close to the stress to be amused by it and that ultimately makes for a moviegoing experience that is not very fun.
Sandler’s performance is definitely worthy of the attention and the filmmaking is a solid example of how to develop a tone, but if you are not prepared for that tone, which feels akin to a feature-length anxiety attack, then Uncut Gems will probably make for a difficult sit. This is the opposite of a “hang out” movie. It is simply exhausting.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens today throughout the Galaxy, including the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Renton Landing.