UNCUT GEMS: FILM REVIEW
Before watching Uncut Gems, I doubted Adam Sandler. I think we all doubted Adam Sandler. In fact, one of the things that made me hesitant to watch Uncut Gems (despite it being distributed by A24) is because I thought, how good can a film be with Adam Sandler in it? Do we trust Lenny Feder of Grown Ups (and Grown Ups 2) to execute a serious role? Apparently, we can.
Uncut Gems follows a Diamond District jeweler named Howard (Adam Sandler), who is addicted to gambling and that rush of adrenaline one gets from making decisions that could end in win-all or lose-all situations. Throughout the film, Howard digs larger and larger holes for himself, as he attempts to get rid of long-standing debts, while simultaneously trying to come out of the situation with more than he started with. A large part of the film’s conflict revolves around Howard’s possession of this “rare” black opal from Ethiopia, which appears in the first sequence of the film. When Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett is lured into his shop, Howard cannot help but flash this opal that Garnett eventually convinces himself is a good luck charm.
As a jeweler, every piece of material is attached to a certain value, whether it’s a bracelet, a watch, a necklace, or an Ethiopian opal. The value of this opal is almost entirely constructed by Howard, as he attempts to convince others to believe in its intangible high value too. However, how can the value of this opal truly be characterized? How can the value of expensive material possessions be characterized in our world as well? Uncut Gems seems to predicate on the concept that a material possession’s “value” is simply an illusion. Throughout the film, Howard becomes more and more disillusioned as he becomes increasingly invested in the value of this gem. At a certain point, it’s unclear what he is really after anymore, as blessings in his life begin to crumble under the gaze of his blind spots.
I think at the end of the day, the story of Uncut Gems hangs on a person’s belief that certain possessions or achievements will take you higher up the ladder, and only once you get there, will you finally be content. It is a game, fueled by an obsession tied to one’s concept of self-worth. Uncut Gems is not the story of someone struggling to survive and needs more to achieve a state of livable comfort. Howard is not only comfortable, he is very much well off, as can be seen by his dazzling apartment and material possessions. However, he barely seems to notice. Of course, as viewers we notice, but to Howard, his luxurious lifestyle is his version of normal.
It’s really difficult to nail endings, but Uncut Gems definitely did. Without it, the constant build-up of the film, up until the very last scene, would almost seem pointless. Although I’m not big on “takeaways,” Uncut Gems succeeds in masterfully depicting the way greed can interrupt and consume our life if we let it, as we only hone in on the things we don’t have, to compete in a capitalism driven race that we ultimately cannot win.