Sandler sparkles in high-volume “Uncut Gems”

Uncut Gems (Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett) – Not so long ago, Adam Sandler was the top box office star in Hollywood.  His raunchy comedies, starring his troupe of buddies, were studio gold.  Every once in a while, he tried a more serious role, most notably in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love and Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me.  Both movies were critically acclaimed, lost money, brought in less than $25 million, and didn’t have Rob Schneider in them.

Now comes Uncut Gems, a jewel of a film that blares at you until you feel exhausted and unsatisfied.  From the opening scene in a mine in Africa to the closing scene at the jewelry store owned by Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner, the movie screams at max volume.  From the dialogue to the soundtrack, Uncut Gems takes you into the slimy underbelly of the jewelry district in New York.

Ratner is a Jewish wheeler-dealer caught between the legitimate and corrupt world of gems.  Ratner is a player.  He runs a little shop with plenty of shiny, expensive jewels.  He bets on basketball.  He supports a family in the suburbs while maintaining an apartment with his girlfriend/employee.  One day, Boston Celtics’ star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) comes in the shop, lured by a Ratner “employee” who caters to African American sports celebrities.  He looks around but is particularly intrigued by a raw, uncut opal containing numerous gems.  It’s the same rock that we saw in the opening sequence of the film.  Garnett wants to show off the opal, which is slated for auction, and gives Ratner his NBA championship ring as collateral.

The rest of the movie is about getting the gem back; Rattner taking the ring and pawning it to make a parlay bet on Garnett and his team; the mob trying to collect past debts from Ratner; the disintegrating family relationships; and the opal not being appraised at the value Ratner expects.  On the tension scale, the movie never dips below maximum.

Ratner is not a sympathetic figure yet he is the only protagonist in the film.  He is a terrible husband, a jealous boyfriend, an opportunistic bullshitter and the unluckiest lucky gambler ever.

Sandler’s performance is spot-on yet I couldn’t see the character without seeing Sandler, which is the first test of a great performance.  Idina Menzel, also playing against type, portrays the wronged wife with a much-deserved bitterness.  Julia Fox is wonderful as the paramour who loves Ratner while working in a high-end dance club entertaining high rollers.  Garnett is passable as the rich athlete with expensive tastes who becomes a guest in this seamy world. On the downside, the women are victims and the gangsters are stereotypically thuggish and stupid.

Should you see it?  Yes, if you want to see an interesting story that will keep you squirming.  You’ll need to see it to determine if Ratner is a guy who, despite his flaws and foibles, always seems to win in the end.  No, don’t go it if you don’t like movies that blast at top volume, have a fair amount of violence and tension, where there are no good guys, and/or you like Rob Schneider.

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