Review – A Diamond in the Rough (“Uncut Gems”)

Adam Sandler. You either hate his films or ya love ’em. I gotta admit, I’m not much of a fan, but I DO like a few including 50 First Dates and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. So, when I heard he was doing another drama like Punch Drunk Love, I was intrigued. Little did I know how good he was going to be in it.

This is not Howard Ratner’s (Sandler) best week, suffice to say, it looks like this hasn’t been his best month either. Y’see, Howard runs a successful jewelry store in New York’s Diamond District, but he’s continually in debt, thanks to a crippling gambling addiction. His patronizing wife (Idina Menzel) is ready to divorce his sorry ass and his ruthless loan-shark brother-in-law (Eric Bogosian) wants his $100K that’s owed him. Oh, and Howard also has a sweet little mistress named Julia (Julia Fox) living in his secret mid-town apartment. This guy never seems to catch a break with all the bets he makes, people he swindles, or deals that go south.

But that all changes one day when Howard receives something in the mail: a large, raw, and uncut, fiery black opal from South Africa worth at least a million. Howard plans to auction it off, but he’s got a problem, and his name is Boston Celtics basketball star, Kevin Garnett. Kevin, who was lured into the store by Howard’s trusty assistant, Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), wants that opal… badly! And I mean, BADLY! Making a huge mistake (not the first time!), Howard lets Kevin keep the magnificent opal for a day, holding his beautiful championship ring as collateral. But things go terribly wrong from there, as you might guess.

Howard has to juggle loan shark goons, his live-in girlfriend, the wild bets he’s making on the Celtics game, his business, getting that precious opal back, AND trying to make his home life work out, proving to be chaotic at best, and he sometimes he snaps and loses it. In all the messiness of the days that follow, Howard romances the stone and believes that the auction ahead will save his business, his life, and his soul. But will it? All I can tell you is that Sandler gives a bravura performance that is far and away his best work yet.

Written by Ronald Bronstein (Heaven Knows What) and the director’s, Josh & Benny Safdie (Good Time), the movie doesn’t let up for a moment in it’s depiction of Sandler’s Howard Ratner being a worthless schmuck, an indescribable bastard, and a man who’d sell his own mother if that would make him some extra cash. But it’s here that Sandler, dropping F-bombs galore and being a maniacal menace, excels. The story, however, is like a Jackson Pollock painting; scattered everywhere and without any place to go. Harsh, dark, and shot with practically all steadi-cams (not my favorite), it weaves in and out of Howard’s miserable life, while the camera is all over the place, and almost always in the wrong place. Yeah, it looks like it was shot by amateurs.

While the plot meanders around from A to B to C, take heart, the actors are there to save the day! Aside from Sandler, you have Stanfield’s kick-ass performance and, who would have thunk it, basketball star Garrett giving a solid showing! Newbie Julia Fox (an ex-dominatrix, model, and director) is terrific, and veterans Judd Hirsch and Bogosian who are just great. I just wish they would have given Menzel a bit more as Howard’s struggling wife. Oh, and check out the eccentric Wayne Diamond as an eccentric gambler. There’s no doubt, I can smell Oscar buzz for Sandler, and I hope this will stop him from doing crap movies like The Ridiculous Six.

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