Uncut Gems

I hated this movie. I rarely hate movies. I find something redemptive in every movie I see, and this film is not without its merits, but I just found it unpleasant and nasty. This movie is like the drunk couple at the bar who get into a screaming match on the sidewalk.

The film follows Howard Ratner played very well by Adam Sandler. He is a jeweler in New York and a man addicted to the thrill of gambling and living life on the edge. He pawns rings to pay for bets that will hopefully cover debts he has to other gamblers and loan sharks. His life is an unpleasant series of anxiety inducing misadventures. This could lead to an ever escalating build up of tension and suspense, but instead just consists of a swirling headache inducing camera and movie that is constantly yelling at the audience.

All dialogue in this movie is shouted. The characters scream at each other. They don’t talk. Everyone is unpleasant in their own ways. Howard is seamy and conniving. His mistress is all insecurities and weaponized sexuality. The thugs sent to collect money from Howard are just gnarly punks who bully Howard and everyone around them. These are not people I want to ever see again. Maybe that’s a credit to the actors playing them that these people are so convincing in their unpleasantness that I never want to see any of them ever again, but it doesn’t do much for my enjoyment of the movie.

The film is shot in a nauseating manner. It’s all close ups and medium closeups that swirl and move too much. It proves extremely difficult to focus on any one object in the frame. An early shot in which Howard walks into his shop is a long tracking shot in which Howard dodges in and out of focus, other characters heads block the view, and some one is always standing in the middle of the frame where the shouldn’t be. It could convey a message about Howard as a slippery character who is hard to pin down, but it feels like sloppy cinematography. It genuinely gave me a headache watching this movie.

Adam Sandler gives a good performance. He is totally unlike himself. He is completely believable as a shop owner that I have seen before in real life. He is really good. I just never want to see him again and couldn’t wait for the movie to be over.

Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe it’s a movie about immersing its audience in the anxiety inducing world of its characters. The problem was that the anxiety I was feeling wasn’t about caring about Howard’s fate. I was repelled by the story, characters, and filmmaking on display. I’ve never had a movie make me actively want to escape it before. Maybe that’s a success for the film.

I found it loud and nasty. I found its positive features swallowed up by its negatives. It’s not my cup of tea at all. D

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