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"UNCUT GEMS"
(2019) (Adam Sandler, Julia Fox) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Trying to pay off debts, a hustler who runs a high-end New York City jewelry store takes risks that threaten to put him in even more dire financial straits.
PLOT:
Howard Ratner (ADAM SANDLER) runs a high-end jewelry store in New York City where, thanks to introductions made for him by Demany (LAKEITH STANFIELD), he caters to wealthy celebrities such as NBA star Kevin Garnett (KEVIN GARNETT). But being a hustler, Howard is deep in debt, including to his brother-in-law, Aron (ERIC BOGOSIAN), whose goons are repeatedly threatening him to pay up. And things aren't any better at home, what with a pending divorce from his wife, Dinah (IDINA MENZEL), who's had enough of his behavior that includes having a girlfriend, Julia (JULIA FOX), one of his employees, on the side.

But having just received a stone from an African mine that contains gems that could be worth a million dollars, Howard thinks he'll hit the motherload at an upcoming auction. But with Kevin wanting to borrow it as a good luck charm for his games, Howard suddenly finds himself having to run some side hustles in order to get money to pay off debts, all while trying to juggle his wife, girlfriend, and others.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
When it comes to annoying people, there are really two varieties. Some are so prickly, loud and in your face that you can't stand to be around them for even a moment. Others can have most if not all of those negative qualities, but still manage to be interesting or intriguing enough that you gird your loins -- does anyone still say that...oh, I guess I just did -- and see if you can hang in there long enough, hoping that something good or at least memorable might come off your perseverance.

That certainly comes to mind while watching "Uncut Gems," a drama filled with aggressive, irritating, loud, obnoxious and annoying elements and moments that I imagine will divide audiences both during and after watching the 135 or so minute film play out. Some will likely exit the theater (or turn it off once it's available at home), clearly not willing to withstand the barrage. Others will be determined to pass the endurance test and might just like, to one degree or another, how everything ultimately fits together and plays out.

I fall into the latter category. Of course, I had to sit through the entire film as that's my job, and I have to say it was an arduous watch, not just due to its aggressive and sensory assaultive nature, but also because it nearly made it to "The Wolf of Wall Street" numbers in terms of F-bombs dropped.

Granted, unless one is Quentin Tarantino and has the gift of making profane gab creatively interesting, such a reliance on cursing often means the rest of the script comes up short, with such plentiful words used as filler rather than good writing. For this offering, I find myself somewhere in the middle of such a debate.

The story -- penned by Ronald Bronstein and sibling co-directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie -- jumps right into that once the African-set prologue -- where a rock containing various gems is unearthed followed by a visual journey inside that which then segues into a journey through the colon of our protagonist, Howard Ratner (played quite well, if annoyingly, by none other than Adam Sandler) -- switches gears and frequency of cursing.

That's when we see him wheeling and dealing in his exclusive, you have to be buzzed in to shop jewelry store in New York City. While trying to make some deals, Howard must contend with two thugs who try to intimidate and briefly get physical with him. We later learn they work for Howard's brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian) to whom the jeweler owes money.

With that gem-filled rock arriving, Howard can already feel and smell the greenbacks in his hand, and real-life NBA star Kevin Garnett (playing himself) is quite taken with the find, wanting to borrow it as a good luck charm. Howard reluctantly agrees but takes the player's championship ring as collateral, something he pawns instantly for cash he's going to use to bet on that night's b-ball game.

Such is the hustling that occurs throughout the film where everyone's yelling and screaming and varying degrees of tension permeate the air and proceedings. It's aggressive to the point of feeling like a visceral assault on your senses -- coupled with an equally in your face (okay, in your ears to be more accurate) score that just ups the ante.

At the same time, Howard's wife (Idina Menzel) wants a divorce -- something they haven't sprung on their kids yet -- and most likely stems not only from his habitual, risky gambling but also him having an affair with one of his employees (Julia Fox).

As all of that unfolds, it just keeps piling up on itself to the point that either you're going to stick around for the ride or bail on the experience, all while wondering whether the protagonist's behavior will ultimately pay off handsomely for him or go all sideways in some spectacular fashion.

While I don't think it's quite Oscar-caliber work (which holds true for all other aspects of the film as well), Sandler is quite good in the role, all but disappearing into the character and thankfully making us mostly forget many of the painfully bad performances in painfully bad comedies he's had over the years. He's proven he can do serious acting in the past and it's nice to see him return to that here.

So, if you can put up with the all-out assault on your senses that is pretty much the overall "Uncut Gems" experience, you might just find yourself liking, to some extent, what's offered. Although I was uncertain about that at times while it unfolded, I ultimately was and like the film a bit more now that I've had more time to digest and process it. Viewer mileage, as always, will wildly vary on this one. I give the film a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed December 5, 2019 / Posted December 25, 2019


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