**The following review contains spoilers for the film**
Howard Ratner is a Jewish man with a large, unified family, a beautiful wife, three loving children, and a renowned jewelry shop that he owns on the diamond district in New York City. Howard also has a hot girlfriend, a gambling addiction, and over $100,000 in debt to multiple people across the state of New York. Such a versatile man, with a dirty, mixed cocktail of a life leaving him intoxicated and fucked over with every sip he takes.
Uncut Gems (2019) takes place in a short span of time in Howard’s (played by Adam Sandler) life, but it’s enough for you to grasp who the character is. Howard does in fact have a gambling problem, and it’s very apparent from the beginning of the film, but what you learn throughout the story is where the addiction stems from. He is also a man of ambition, and this ambition ties in with his gambling and his overall life. He feels like he deserves more than what he has, and he goes for it, putting everything on the line in the process. Howard wants more money, so he takes the thousands he borrows and immediately places it on a bet for a “bigger win.” Howard wants his family close but also the beauty, youth, and vibrancy of his girlfriend, so he stalls on signing divorce papers with his wife and hides his girlfriend in a paid-for apartment, enjoying the bounty of both lives- while risking it all if he were to get caught by one of this children.
Howie lives his life on the edge, literally, because you truly spend the entirety of the film believing he will die at any moment, by the hands of 10+ different characters. It’s his innate nature that drives the anxious-inducing, chaotic force of this film. Even small interactions with his family induce so much uneasiness that makes you squeamishly uncomfortable. He acts against everything any rational person would do, so as you sit there watching his every decision, you feel like you might just explode. Had I been watching this film in the comfort of my home, I might’ve been screaming at the television like he was KG in the fourth quarter (haha.)
The story is so character driven that the audience has no calm corner to run off to when things start to get tough. You’re never given a break from his illogical rationalizations, his delusions, and his overall scumminess. And this loud, out-of-touch person that we watch would not have been the same if it were played by anyone else other than the Sandman himself.
Adam Sandler dominates this role. He transforms himself into Howard, and creates the image of greed. I personally believe that Sandler already has a notable voice, which only played better for the role. I can hear Howard yelling in my ears now as I type this out. His swagger, thanks to costume designers, was off the charts. I mean, Howard dresses like a 1990’s Mafioso with slicked hair, massive gold rings, and all. The detail from the glasses he wears down to his watch is so precise, it transported me to a place I’d never been before.
Julia Fox was obviously very beautiful, but she also was lively and proud. She demanded that you watch her, even if she was just standing in the corner of the shot.
Idina Menzel, Lakeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian, and the rest of the cast all were perfectly added into the film and came together like a true family to deliver this array of personalities and problems surrounding Howard like branches on a tree.
The Safdie Brothers constructed chaos, and there was a method to the madness. There are scenes where you can barely tell who’s saying what because everyone’s talking over each other, but it never loses grip. The chaos is contained just enough to tell a thoughtful story about a man who pushes everything around him to impossible limits. He pushes his wife, his luck, and the wrong people at multiple times throughout the film. He pushes situations and people to the limits he’s created for them, disregarding the fact that when pushed over the edge, people will ultimately snap, and the ramifications of that are greater than just some lost money.
I would definitely like to shoutout the writers of this film, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, and Ronald Bronstein, for writing what many are calling an ‘adult horror film,’ because it truly is something that made my skin crawl as if it had acid-blood aliens in it or something. Howard dies one of the worst ways we can imagine as adults- in crippling debt and never having tasted and appreciated the fruit of the life he so desperately fought for and thought he deserved.
Starring, Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian, and more
Written and Directed by, The Safdie Brothers and Ronald Bronstein