Uncut Gems (2019) – Dir: Josh Safdie (Heaven Knows What) and Benny Safdie

Adam Sandler disappears into the role of young, Jewish hustler and degenerate gambler, Howard Ratner, with big dreams and a sharp mind. A wife who loathes him and doesn’t understand him, but his kids love him. His girlfriend is in love with him and she is sweet and devoted, even if it is somewhat difficult for him to trust her fidelity at times.

Howie did his research and while dodging a loan shark and his idiot loose-cannon bodyguards and bullets, as well as excessive hand-to-hand violence, from them, he has a million dollar stone to sell.

Howie is a jeweller so he’s in the right business. The stone is worth a million because he acquired something nobody else was looking for.

Howie is also a basketball fan, his young son follows his dad’s passion for basketball. In other circumstances, Howie could be a great father. He loves his kids and always tries to be there for them. But his gambling and lack of caution when dealing with violent criminals, can get him in trouble – which when he finds himself in it, seems to take him by complete surprise.

One thing it is important to recognise is that Howie is a top-tier bullshit artist and compulsive liar. He’s also an expert businessman. Alot of the time, when he’s trying to do business, people don’t believe him and this also puzzles him. He can’t close deals sometimes, or there are upsets, when he tries to do legitimate business, but the uneducated associates think he’s full of shit. Which is true sometimes, but it still feels so unfair when he gets ignored by the ignorant – who should know better. Unfortunately, this usually happens when he has a lot to lose – often his life and/or bodily harm – which is his own fault most of the time.

Okay, so the writing is good in the way that it’s a simple story with lots of intricate puzzle pieces, layers of complex elements and lenses. We have a few important characters. Especially Howie and his girlfriend. The style of writing is nice, too. The characters and dialogue are fresh and interesting enough. The way the story is told is, in a sense taking the audience on a journey, following Howie and the others, in raw detail.

Simply told. But we care about the characters because every character in the film has several dimensions, even the walk-on parts are interesting in that there is consistently more to them than surface details and obvious motivations. Some people care about Howie, others don’t so much. And it’s not always obvious telling which people are on his side – that’s the most unique thing about this film. Trying to figure out who is on Howie’s side and watching Howie, himself, hoping that he wins this time, as he bets more than he has, again.

The visual language of this film is simple. And there is no x-factor. I have covered about the limits of this film’s upside. The downside is that besides the solid ending and that donkey that the audience will wish hellfire upon, there’s not much more to it.

2.5 stars

Published by mikebwriter

Hi, I'm Mike. I specialise as a freelance game dev mentor, novelist, critic/essayist, video producer, digital product designer, cartoonist, comic writer, game writer, mecha designer and short fiction writer and am a self-taught art director/attraction designer. I am interested in both producing micro-budget video and digital products, sketching, fiction writing and writing songs. I have some videos with songs I've written on them - find via my website. My sense of humour is absurdist, inwardly bleak, caustic and morose, self-referential, rebellious and defiant, even in some cases sadistic, but overall sincere and even in the tragedies, hopeful.

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