As I saw Adam Sandler’s face flash up on the Odeon screen, my eyes just rolled back into my head. To think I had to sit through two hours of watching him crack jokes was nothing short of a horror flick to me. But the surprise film at the LFF, “Uncut Gems”, had me anxious and nervous like I have never been before and made me appreciate the comic in a new light. Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler, is a New York jeweller who never stops rolling the dice on the game of chance which is his everyday life. He acquires a black opal from an Ethiopian mine which, according to him, is worth millions. With subtle themes of social belonging and race alongside that of greed, "Gems" explores Howard’s character, as he always craves more and puts himself in a vicious cycle of gambling- his money, his diamonds and even his life. With a slew of clients, Ratner finds Kevin Garnett at his doorstep brought by his broker Denmany, portrayed by Lakeith Stanfield. With no other intention but to brag about his rare find, Ratner brings the opal out to flaunt it in front of Garnett.
Garnett’s role reeled me in. His instant connection with the Opal opened up a history, maybe even his history which he saw unspool with that one gem through a montage of visuals. A history so heavy that the glass box he was leaning on shattered under the weight of his arms. Entranced by it, Kevin barters the opal for his ring and vows to return it to Howard after his match– that’s when we begin to see the frustrating life of Howard Ratner unfold. Clearly established, Sandler’s character has no moral compass, nor does he make logical decisions. He pawns the ring without a thought to bet on the match in hopes of winning and freeing himself of debt.
A prolific liar, Ratner constantly tries to rely on loyalty and is often left surprised and infuriated every time someone lets him down, whether it be catching his girlfriend with The Weekend or Denamy ignoring Howard’s deal with Garnett. Ratner and his addiction lead him to crushing debt which he tries to crawl out of every time. His personal relations are strained, from cheating on his wife to owing his brother money- each family drama comes with its own baggage. Ratner is aware of his problems, but never the extent of them. Ignoring the calls of his bookie, he is soon left in the back of a car, naked with nothing but his phone.
Hugh Grant would barely be able to tolerate the film, given its heavy sound design, which directed the movie in its own way. The Safdie brothers engage the audience, making the film an immersive experience. With kitsch visuals like that of the gaudy interiors of the opal where the shot zooms out into a doctor's office with Howard having his colonoscopy, we find everything to be connected back to our protagonist. The long takes, coupled with a lack of silence, create a sensory overload. We never leave Ratner’s side, and are forced to watch him make false promises that end with him being punched in the face, or even worse.
Who knew 80s synth pop could capture the madness of an adrenaline junkie stuck in a rabbit hole of bad decisions? The jarring soundtrack was something I would have never expected out of a dark thriller. It almost felt misplaced yet effective, and was a great addition to the over-the-top imagery. Howard never stops to take a breath, and neither do we, and we become wound up every time his life goes south. Adam Sandler is back again with another Punch, Drunk, Love level showcase. Though Ratner is still very much in-your-face, Sandler-style, he is nuanced - a caring father, compulsive liar, a terrible brother. The two hours flash by so quickly that you’re left thinking: 'What just happened?'
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor