Going into this movie, I was torn. Because while I love so many things about this premise, a dark comedy about crime and basketball, starring one of my favorite NBA players of all time, Kevin Garnett, but it also has Adam Sandler, who has only ever been in one movie that I enjoy, and that’s surprisingly Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation.
So I was somewhat dreading seeing Uncut Gems, so when I finally got a chance to see it, I was pretty cautiously optimistic, knowing that I have been burned by 2019 releases with great reviews many times. (Thinking of you Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, for the first time in months) Anyway, after all sitting through the film, I can say without a doubt, that it not only lives up to the hype, but is also such an insanely odd movie, that it’s impossible to not understand why someone wouldn’t like it. So let’s get into Uncut Gems.
Starting with the best thing about the movie, where I had heard Oscar hype for Adam Sandler for the past few months leading to release for his performance as Howard Ratner, who is basically just any Adam Sandler character if you put him through the Matrix. However, I think that giving the best performance of the film, and in fact the best supporting performance from any actor from last year, is the Big Ticket himself, Kevin Garnett. Garnett, who was always known for his intensity and swagger on the court, here shows a silent intensity to a frightening degree.
He doesn’t appear too often in the film, even with the fairly extended running time, but every moment he does appear, the movie gets so much better. The acting in general is definitely the best part of this movie. We have Julia Fox, as the girlfriend of Howard who manages to perfectly embody what a toxic relationship looks like. We have Lakeith Stanfeld, who just adds to his already impressive resume of the past two years with another great performance, and Keith William Richards, who is so good in his first acting role as a “debt collector” that I’m pretty sure that it’s his actual job. This is without a doubt, one of the best acted films of the year, all revolving around Garnett.
Uncut Gems also has the distinction of being the most intense film of the year. Howard Ratner is such a massive idiot that every single action he makes will inevitably lead to the destruction of every single one of his relationships. While this does make it hard to sympathize with such a self-destructive character, it also makes it quite intense, as you still want him to survive and succeed. From the auction scene, to the final nail-biting basketball game, the film is extremely tense. This could also be attributed to the wonderful editing job, as the way that it is both shot and the shots all combine to make a movie that is nothing less than a thrilling experience.
Those are really all the positives I have to say, because everything else is either incredibly average or disappointing. For example, the opening of Uncut Gems is probably one of the worst openings for a great movie that I’ve ever seen. It starts in the caves where the uncut gem itself is found. Somehow it manages to hit everything a film opening shouldn’t be, boring, weird, and slightly confusing, otherwise known as the Trifecta of Changing the Channel. While the movie does a complete 180°, giving us a fantastic ending, the opening to Uncut Gems is probably one you can skip.
The last thing I want to discuss are the actual characters. Most of them (with the exception of Idinia Menzel and Judd Hirsch’s characters, Dinah and Gooey) are terrible people. Howard is so self destructive that he has the chance to make things right about three separate times, but he always manages to muck it up. His girlfriend, Julia, is slightly better, but is just one of Howard’s pawns and does basically whatever he asks her to do without regard for anyone else.
There are films that feature characters that are bad people as the lead roles that manage to make them somewhat likable (Thoroughbreds, I, Tonya) but the problem in this scenario is that Howard is the one that is getting himself into these painful situations instead of being thrust into it by an outside force. So while I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, its incredibly difficult to make a character whose already a bad person doing bad things and have the audience to still want him to pull it out in the end.
So that’s Uncut Gems, and even with its problems, it’s still one of the better films of the year so far. Sandler and Garnett give two of the best performances of last year, the editing and cinematography is amazing, and this film is definitely a must-see. So while you can definitely fast forward five minutes, and should also bring a stress ball for whenever Howard does something stupid (if it was a drinking game, you’d be dead in the first hour), Uncut Gems is still better than anything else out in January, so maybe that could be a diamond in the rough.