I did not enjoy watching Adam Sandler's new film Uncut Gems at all. It was awful. A real bad time. As far as terrible viewing experiences go, it's right up there. You should, of course, watch it at once.
The movie, which just landed on Netflix, is an ultra-tense crime thriller that churns your stomach like butter. During its worst moments, which is pretty much each and every one of its 135 minutes, it hits like a boxer repeatedly punching the body, leaving you gasping for breath and just wanting it to end.
Thankfully then, Uncut Gems does occasionally shift gears. Unfortunately this offers little respite as it pivots from inducing high stress to causing great cringe. For some, the cringe will be much, much worse.
At the heart of all this anxiety is the Sandman. While he has a hard-earned reputation for blatantly coasting through his particular brand of low-brow comedies he does, when the whim takes him, go above and beyond. Because the bar of expectation is set so low, whenever he does break a sweat he rakes up critical acclaim like dead leaves littering the garden.
Sandler's secret is that he's a damn fine dramatic actor when he wants to be. Think of his praised turns in The Meyerowitz Stories, Punch Drunk Love and The Wedding Singer. Okay, that last one's a gimme but in a lot of ways it's his comedic high watermark, representing the last time he really, properly, aimed high in one of his comedy flicks.
Here in the role of Howie Ratner, a loudmouthed jeweller with a hefty gambling problem, Sandler goes all in and delivers a tour de force performance that's as admirable as it is exhausting.
I swear, he never once shuts up during the whole movie. Or maybe it just feels that way. Ratner's a guy constantly moving, hustling, worrying, scheming, betting, lying, threatening, whining, dodging and ignoring all passing off-ramps as he continually pushes the odds in the hope of coming out on top.
The story revolves around the uncut gem of the title, an extremely rare chunky block of black opal stolen from an Ethiopian mine that he's hustled himself into possessing.
"They say you can see the whole universe in opals," Ratner enthuses to real life NBA star Kevin Garnett, who plays himself and has come to Ratner's highly security conscious store for some new bling.
Garnett, a potential buyer, is enraptured by the stone and comes to believe it holds great mystical powers akin to a supercharged lucky charm. Under the guise of purchasing he borrows the stone for a couple of days, against Ratner's fruitless protestations, leaving his NBA Championship ring behind as collateral.
More jewellery however is the last thing Ratner needs. What he
needs is cold hard cash to pay off the cold hard goons looking to collect the substantial amount of money he owes a bookie.
And this is where things rapidly start sliding downhill. Instead of laying low and going through with his plan to auction the stone for a million dollars he instead pawns the ring and uses that money to lay a bet with a different bookie. Believing in Garnett's belief in the opal he hatches a new plan. Put all the cash down on Garnett, win, pay off his debt, get Garnett's ring back from the pawn shop, get his black opal back from Garnett and then, finally, sell the gem at the auction. Win, win and win.
Shockingly, this convoluted plan goes almost instantly awry. Although, to be fair to Ratner, that's not entirely through his own doing.
If you've never rated Sandler before, his work here demands you do. He gives a manic intensity to his character and an aura of highly strung out desperation as he repeatedly almost gets the pieces of the puzzle to click together only to see them fall off the table in the worst way possible again and again and again.
Uncut Gems reminded me of those classic 70s, character driven, crime thrillers. Its grimy look and feel bringing the streets of New York right into your lounge. Heightening the film's awful tension is its brilliantly moodily and evocative synth soundtrack.
The movie twists and turns and shocks while Ratner keeps talking and scheming and pleading and dealing and hoping it'll all work out in the end.
"This is how I win," he repeatedly insists despite the stacking odds against him and the sickening feeling growing in your stomach that he won't. There's no lulls or breathing room. You, like Ratner, are slowly suffocating the whole time.
Then suddenly, it ends. Leaving you sitting there with the same silly grin on your face as our hero. Neither given time to work out what just happened.