Uncut Gems

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Uncut Gems

***1/2

They say money is the root of all evil. Of course that isn’t true, though.

Before money was invented, I am pretty confident that there were people coveting their neighbor’s spouses and thieves stealing farm animals and grain supplies.

Money isn’t the root of all evil, but it is certainly the root of a lot of evil. “Uncut Gems” shows us some of the ways.

Adam Sandler plays New York jeweler Howard Ratner: one stressed-out guy.

The action begins in May, 2012. Howard owes $100,000 to a loan shark and the goons are on his trail.

But Howard is set up for the big score of his career. He smuggled a rare, beautiful rock full of Black Opals from Ethiopia and he is going to sell it at auction for a million dollars.

Things get complicated when one of his celebrity customers – Celtics center Kevin Garnett – borrows the precious rock and uses it as a good luck charm during the NBA playoffs.

And that’s how Howard’s downfall begins. Howard is hopelessly addicted to sports gambling. The inside information he has about KG and his magic stone has captivated his sick, addicted mind.

So we the audience are stuck in a waking nightmare, watching Howard hustle and lie and blow up at people. He ignores his responsibilities and his debts because he is focused on the Sixers/Celtics Conference Semi-finals.

Adam Sandler’s performance is intense and Oscar-worthy. The finest moment is when he is alone in the back of a car after winning a parlay bet on Game 3. Suddenly, all his problems wash away. Howard is in ecstasy. The only pure joy in his life is winning a big sports bet. It’s a terrible, terrible addiction.

The subtle tragedy of Sandler’s performance is that we see the good in him even as he does incredibly stupid things. At times you can catch glimpses of how he could have been a hard-working family man. But money has twisted his mind and turned him into a miserable monster.

The pressure to look like a winner has left Howard perpetually indebted. His career dealing precious jewels has enveloped him in a web of danger and violence. And the movie shows that high stakes sports betting is a get rich quick scheme that always fails.

Writers/directors Josh and Bennie Safdie show how much better Howard’s life would be without the betting and the luxury and the jewels and the greed. All of our lives would be better without it.

I’m not sure I actually recommend that you watch “Uncut Gems.” It is too heart-poundingly suspenseful to be enjoyable. But it is a well-crafted character study with a perfect ending.

Most of all, the film offers an important lesson. The next time you see a cool, rich-looking, high roller-type, remember that he is not somebody to envy or admire. He is a victim of our money-obsessed culture and probably has more problems than you do.

 

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