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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 1 year ago

'Uncut Gems' a dazzling tale of deluded desperation

Adam Sandler brilliant as stridently self-defeating lead character

You may rethink a dislike for Adam Sandler's body of work in the past after having seen "Uncut Gems." In it he delivers a career-defining performance that is garnering Oscar buzz.

  Sandler portrays Howard Ratner, a New York “crazy-ass Jew," as his neighbors call him, who sells gems. And he owes money to lots of people around town. When Howard happens to catch a documentary about Ethiopians mining rare opals, he decides to purchase one and score big time. The opal's arrival coincides with the NBA's Kevin Garnett (playing himself) coming into his shop. In a slap-to-your-forehead move, Howard loans the opal to Garnett in exchange for his championship ring as collateral. Howard then pawns the ring. Bad idea.

  We soon come to the conclusion that Howard's problem is way greater than owing money. He's basically a self-destructive fool. At every turn he spirals deeper into debt with ridiculous schemes to sell the opal. To add insult to injury, his wife (Idina Menzel) can't stand him. Be prepared to spend 130 minutes wincing as Howard's life spins out of control. 

  Josh and Bernie Safdie (“Good Time") direct and script this insane, rollercoaster thriller guaranteed to keep your head spinning. At times it seems as if they're borrowing material from Karel Reisz's "The Gambler" (1974) but injecting a lighter side to the protagonist's persona. Martin Scorsese signs on as executive producer and his prints are latently placed throughout the film. Signature, snazzy scoring employed by the Safdies further enhance the adrenaline-pumping action playing out on screen.

  "Uncut Gems" sports a great supporting cast including Eric Bogosian, Keith Williams Richards, Judd Hirsch and Lakeith Stanfield. In a particularly standout performance is Julia Fox as Howard's girlfriend and co-worker. You're never quite sure if she's on the up and up.

  But Sandler owns this electrifying film. His portrayal as the unbridled risk taker is terrific. The ever-present grin masking the burgeoning turmoil beneath Howard's surface is seductive. Yet he manages to come off as endearing. It's so Sandler.

  "Uncut Gems" is about a man with big dreams, making huge blunders. His passion is misdirected and it's headed toward having to pay the piper at some junction. But at what cost?   

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