Opals are some of the prettiest stones on the planet. Derived from the Sanskrit upala, meaning “precious stone,” they later took on the Greek derivative “Opallios”, meaning “to see a change of color.” Once believed to be a harbinger of bad luck due to jewelers not knowing how to render them properly, thus resulting in the breakage of them, the ancients oppositely saw the precious stone to be a talisman of fidelity and assurance. It was also said that the opal had amplified traits, both good and bad. It is in this journey, from the mines of Africa, 2010 to the minds of the Brothers Safdie, 2019 that I give you all the painful emotion, passionate dialogue and promissory notes that is Uncut Gems (A24).
This isn’t a tv review, so I won’t hit on the play by play in this game, but we’ll cover the spread so that you all will feel the sting (oh and it is poisonous, but GOOD.)
The Sandman (Adam Sandler) is back! After lending his talents to Hotel Transylvania 3 (2018) and before that, corporally in The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), the last I’d seen of his was on SNL earlier in 2019. Personally, I think Punch-Drunk Love (2018) and Spanglish (2004) and The Wedding Singer (1998) are my top three just acting-wise. I can name others, but this is Op-Ed for the moment. I believe he’s created some stinkers, as all have but he’s the person I honestly still root for, knowing what he can do.
Josh and Benny Safdie had this script running for about 10 years. They’ve sent it to Sandler years ago, to which his agent said a flat out ‘NO.’ They’ve always had Sandler in mind for this part. They’ve pitched it elsewhere, where it got declined as well. At some point, the Safdie’s decided to take a bet on Sandler down the line and it paid off. This, of course, is coming off of the success of their movies prior to, including Daddy Longlegs (2009) and their prior breakout hit, Good Time (2017). Their creative upbringing and a passion for filmmaking led them to will ultimately let me to.. let’s not get ahead of myself now. Now, we introduce you to the-
This is where you make a bet and the more you bet on, the better you do… If you cover them all. The more that lose, well, you know. Studio A24, which has massive plaudits, critically, is still not mainstream. NOR SHOULD THEY BE! This is me coming out, but if they keep doing what they are doing and keep the goddamned art alive, then they will have achieved pure bliss. Good reviews, solid shit, thought-provoking, honest shit and fuck the rest.
So now we get to the game, proper. Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) in 2012 has just secured a rare Black Opal from the Ethiopian Jewish mines from which a worker was injured. He already has collectors breathing down his neck and we have Kevin Garnett (as himself) in his shop. He is elated to have such a high profile uncut gem (within the rock,) in his possession after 17 months of trying to procure it. His shop is a mess, he owes debts, but the only thing he wants to do is keep KG in the game just to show him this rare piece of the earth. Kevin is enamored through a look of his loupe and he’s immediately smitten. His mainstay, Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) brought KG in and though Howie wants to sell the piece at auction, KG has to have it.
That’s kind of mean though, just keeping a high profile client in the building when he’s a game to play with taunting him. Kevin puts up his Celtics ring so that he may hold onto the rock, as it speaks to him. Something about it resonates and the dude wants to borrow it for a night for his game. I mean, in basketball, pass the rock to KG, amiright?
Against his better judgment, Howie lets him borrow it under the provision that he keep something as collateral, KG’s Celtic’s Ring. This is a safe bet, we’re all banking on, but then Howie goes and pawns it on the Celtics game. So the guy is doubly out. Oh, by the way, he owes some other debts that haven’t been fully squared. This is the look of a serious gambler and now I get where it comes from. It comes from addiction, not that I’d known before but in a different way. He’s pawned off some serious rocks for one rock. One that’s actually covered in terra firma. This isn’t the first time he’s done this-
Back at home, Howard is welcomed by his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), but coldly. It’s his big bet. He is all invested in the game on tv, not her, not their one son, more into the other one that takes a liking to him. Favoring the one son over the other and glossing over his daughter, he sees the play he’s made on them, the huge play had made me a millionaire. He is over the moon and can’t help to tell his mistress, Julia (Julia Fox)
However, at his daughter’s play, he is kidnapped by collectors, namely Phil (Keith Williams Richards) and learning about them canceling the big win, he’s stripped naked and left in a car… His family’s car.
Upon returning and missing most of his daughter’s play, only taking away the money aspect, he continues on, now wanting to find where his Black Opal Golden Goose had gone.
His daughter knows, his wife knows. Trying to commiserate with them doesn’t help and he tries to track down this thing that might give him leverage in an auction. So he attends an after-party for the Weeknd. This is where Demany, his boy, has to have the thing back in hand, which Howard placed a long-shot bet on… I mean, pass the rock, am I fucking right?
His co-worker fucks him over because Howie’s a shitbag and has both him and his mistress in a fight after she flirts with the Weeknd, which, by the way, get yours, girl.
He’s pissed, wants her out of his apartment, that his son had soon found out about them. This guy is not someone to emulate in any shape, fashion or form.
Back at the Sedar, among a panoply of family, from Bubbie to Arno (Eric Bogosian), that threatened to slit his throat, Howard is tasked with translating the Torah. This is one of the most telling and poetic scenes. He reads of impending doom and one can’t help but think that the guy had it coming to him. It’s not a pretty nor honest life he leads. Matter of fact, everything he does oozes of insincerity. He is, however, a serial killer… with words. He knows just how to get the right mark and murder that ish. He could sell ice to an Eskimo. He could sell ice to the North Pole… However, because of his “ice” being in storage, aka, in the hands of KG, he’s now in a bit of a pickle. He has KG’s Celtic’s bling ring as collateral, which he’s pawned off, along with the windfall of his other score. He bet it all on something that won in dividends… if Arno, already knowing this fucker’s propensity for betting loose and high didn’t stop the bet. The win of a lifetime could have been. The gold even Dragons would make their amorous other for life. But Howard’s a fuck up and he’s reminded of that.
LOOK “SHARP”, FIX UP:
I can bloviate about this. I’m nearly compelled to. The rub is that this a cinematic experience best served without much going in. It’s a fucking journey from the first scene to the very last moment. My heart palpitations could not be contained, as if from a Tex Avery cartoon when I left those theatre doors. I gave you guys the taste of what it is. Sometimes… you just gotta dig deeper.
OFF THE BOARD:
A few mentionable things:
‘Dog: The Safdie Brothers have been bringing it hardcore since Good Time (A24). I think it’s only a matter of time the center of Hollywoodland takes true notice. I see them as the neo-Coen Brothers, no sarcasm affixed.
Edge: This is what bettors love. It’s something they know they don’t want to admit because it’s the snake in the grass! The edge for the Safie Brothers outside of their amazing writing and directing was always their composer. Oneohtrix Point Never. His shit is the apex of dreamy and intense. Yup. He can do both in two bars. Along with his insane score is Darius Khondji, a one of a kind cinematographer that makes this beautiful fever dream come true.
Lock: The Weeknd. ‘Nuff said.
In all earnest, Uncut Gems had it from the start. I think Josh and Benny have way better things coming to them in the future. To employ the likes of Mike Francesa in an actual likable part, I doff my hat to. For the crazy and dreamy visuals amid the verbal violence transpiring, I also doff my hat. For my heart palpitations when I was leaving the theatre, going to my car and trying to drive home… I don’t doff my headwear to simply put it back on. I put my coat over the puddle so they can gain better passage.
This is probably the best movie I’ve seen thus far. That being said, it was a trip. That’s all I’m going to say. Addiction, Comeupannce, anything that could rile your four pumping chambers…. it’s on the line.
Exotic bets are an interesting thing. They are particular, you may lose a shit ton of money, but they are far more interesting than any bet ever. They could pay in dividends. Uncut Gems put it all on a singular line and it seriously paid off. It’s possibly the role of a lifetime for Sandler, it’s mesmerizing, dreamy and possibly one of the trippiest movies I’d seen in like 20 years… This is something that needs to be experienced, won, lost and won again. That is all.