Uncut Gems

 

            Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a bundle of contradictions.  He's a New York jeweler, but one of his best clients is Kevin Garnett, who plays for the Knicks' big rival, The Boston Celtics.  He's a family man, married with a daughter and two sons, and he dutifully takes his turn reading at the family Seder observance.  Yes, he's Jewish, as well, as are many of his colleagues, but Howard Ratner, while being observant about Passover celebration, is not what you would call a pious man.  He has been known to cheat his customers, by assuring them that the jewelry they just purchased is of higher quality than it is.  Some of them continue to bang on his office door, but he has one of those double-door security systems where you have to buzz people in, so he just ignores them.

            Howard also loves to gamble, and place bets with bookies, especially on NBA games.  But the high “vig” (interest rate) that the bookies charge gets him in trouble with the goons they hire to collect.  Howard is always juggling one obligation off another.  He'll pawn a piece of jewelry that he's holding as collateral for someone else.  He'll take his winnings from one bookie and pay off the other.  He constantly on the phone, wheeling and dealing.  He says he'll be at one of his kid's school plays, but then leaves to take a phone call and doesn't return.  He says he'll be home to help put the little one to bed, but he rarely shows up, and if he does, he's anxious to watch a game because he's got money riding on it.  His wife, Julia (Julia Fox), tiring of all this, decides to divorce him, which is OK by Howard, because he's got a girlfriend on the side, anyway, the cute young thing at the jewelry store, whom he's bought an apartment for, and who sends him lingerie texts.

            We're just waiting for all this hyper-activity to implode, and for Howard's shenanigans to catch up to him.  But somehow we like this guy---he's nice to his kids when he does see them.  He's expended a lot of effort and persistence in acquiring a rare uncut gem (hence the title), and genuinely wants someone to own it who is really enamored with it.  And his friend Kevin Garnett has both the interest and the money.  Howard tries to reconcile with his wife (after he's had an argument with the girlfriend).  He's focusing everything on a really big score, a gamble on the 7th game of the NBA championships, provided, of course, that Kevin Garnett plays lights out, which Howard is convinced is going to happen.  So convinced that he bets money that doesn't belong to him.

            Yes, greed seems to be the centerpiece for the whole movie, but Sandler's natural charm sugar-coats his otherwise profane character.  Why not root for him to score big on a preposterous parlay bet?  Though Howard is not a model citizen, somehow he's endearing, anyway.  And that may just be because of Sandler's out-of-character performance.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association