Uncut Gems (2019) Is a Perpetual Series of Heart Attacks

Adam Sandler means business in the latest film from directors Josh and Benny Safdie, “Uncut Gem’s.” This 2019 release produced by Martin Scorsese is an adrenaline rush that will have you clenching your chest for its 2 hour and 15-minute runtime.

With the release of “Joker” and “Uncut Gems,” 2019 seems to be the year of the anti-hero. “Tell them who the f--- I am,” Howard Ratner is played by Adam Sandler in a performance that should have the Academy seriously considering him for a nomination at minimum. This character is everything that a typical Adam Sandler character (gambler, liar, cheat) is not. The film follows him as he navigates one bad gamble with an un-trackable and at times overwhelming amount of even worse decisions. The setting of the film is Manhattan’s Diamond District with the location varying most frequently between Howard’s gem shop, his NYC apartment, and his home 20 minutes outside of the city. Howard embodies the world around him being always on the move in high stakes.

The movie opens similarly to “The Exorcist” (Iraq) at a dig site in Africa. At this point the theme of the film is revealed in the form of a magical uncut black opal, wherein “The Exorcist” was a statue. This introduction is followed by one of the greatest opening title sequences of the year that transitions from the inside of the colorful and enigmatic opal to Howard’s colon as he receives a colonoscopy. The magic of this transition is largely created because of the electronic and colorful song “The Ballad of Howard Ratner,” from GoodTime (2017) OST artist Oneohtrix Point Never.

After having been mishandled by a thug of Kevin Garnett who tears his collar a loyal employee of 8 years who is threatening to leave complains to Howard about the lack of respect he has received. “Take this Gucci shirt, it’s worth $500.” Howard’s relationship with the people around him can be summarized in this single response. The lack of sentiment he holds for the characters in his world is in part because of his materialistic ego and in part because of his vision for betting it all and winning big. This scene comes during the inciting incident of the film when Howard receives a shipment from Africa in the form of a Black Opal. The Opal is the main catalyst that drives the plot forward. Similarly to Howard, the opal is always on the move and draws powerful people and stars such as Kevin Garnett at the height of the 2012 NBA finals.

Noteworthy mentions:

- Soundtrack composed by Oneohtrix Point Never

- Howard’s NY Knicks ring

- The Passover dinner

- Tilda Swindon’s voice/Gooey at the auction

- “Are you having a good time?”

- The decay of Howard’s world

- Opening title sequence

- Ending credit sequence

Gems will take you on a journey with Howard where every good moment and breath of fresh air will immediately be twisted as Howard walks a lethal high-wire. The cast includes The Weekend, Julia Fox, Lakieth Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, and Idina Menzel in a sensible car-crash of character. By the end of the film, every interaction that a character has with Howard will ultimately make you wonder how he’ll cheat, ruin, or upset them.


© 2023 by Giorgio Citarella II