Howard's Search for a Sure Bet: Uncut Gems
Howard Ratner leads a fast-paced life. Some would say he lives a life that is too fast-paced. He finds himself paying a price for his ways in Uncut Gems. Howard (Adam Sandler) runs a successful jewelry store in New York's Diamond District, but he has also amassed a huge gambling debt. He has also acquired stone full of opals that he hopes to sell at auction for a price that will settle his debt with Arno (Eric Bogosian), a loan shark who presses Howard for payment. Howard's associate Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) thinks he has a potential buyer in NBA star Kevin Garnett (as himself). While Garnett waits to hear from his financial adviser about the purchase, he leaves his NBA Championship ring with Howard as collateral in order to leave the store with it. After Ganett leaves, Howard pawns the ring and places a bet on the playoff game featuring Garnett.
Howard, though, places the bet with one of Arno's bookies. Even though Howard wins the bet, Arno informs him that he canceled the wager. Howard then works to retrieve the opal, only to learn through Demany that Garnett has loaned the stone to The Weeknd (as himself). The singer is hanging out with a group of people that includes Howard's mistress Julia (Julia Fox), who also works for Howard. Arno and his men continue to tail him, and humiliate him at a school function he attends with his estranged wife Dinah (Idina Menzel). At Passover dinner, he discusses the auction with his father-in-law Gooey (Judd Hirsch). He gets Gooey to bid against Garnett to drive up the price, but that backfires when Garnett bows out of the bidding. Howard then works out a deal to allow the player to get the stone which Gooey never wanted and get back the pawned ring. Howard then sends Julia to a casino to place a huge bet on Garnett's next game as Arno and his men lose their patience.
Uncut Gems, like its main character, is a fast-moving drama from brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. The Safdies also wrote this movie with Ronald Bronstein. They present a blunt look at a man who seems to have nothing but bad luck with his scheming. Every bit of bad luck comes with an appearance from Arno and his men. This movie, which has some twists, reminds me a bit of the works of David Mamet, such as House Of Cards and Heist, where the sides presented up front aren't always what they seem to be. The relationship between Howard and Arno, for example, goes beyond personal. Howard also does things to create distance between himself and the people who work most closely with him. The tension of the situation engages viewers from the beginning until the climax. The movie is set in the recent past, as Garnett is now retired from the game he played well.
Sandler is at his dramatic best as Howard, who knows the price for not repaying Arno. Behind Howard's manic energy is a clear desperation. The desperation grows when he gets some disappointing news about the stone's appraisal. The troubles make him more impulsive, and sometimes lead him to abrupt changes of course. He finds time for his sons, knowing that time will be more limited when he and Dinah divorce. Garnett does well as a fictional version of himself, a celebrity who wants the stone for his own, but Howard doesn't make the transaction as easy as it could be. Bogosian is also solid as Arno, a no-nonsense loan shark who gets plenty of nonsense from Howard. Fox makes a good screen debut as Julia who puts up with Howard's ever-changing moods, including a demand that she vacate the apartment for which Howard pays the rent. In addition to Garnett and The Weeknd, John Amos has a cameo as a fictional version of himself. Tilda Swinton and Natasha Lyonne make voice appearances as people forced to deal with an anxious Howard by phone.
Uncut Gems is a thrilling race against time. Howard Ratner knows he owes money to the wrong people, and they do not let him forget that. The creditors are fast running out of patience, and Howard is fast running out of options. All along the way, Howard looks for the sure bet that will satisfy everybody and allow him to get back to a less chaotic life.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Uncut Gems 3.5 stars. All that glitters may not be worth the price paid for it.
Uncut Gems trailer
© 2020 Pat Mills