Uncut Gems feels like more than a movie, it’s an experience. It’s like being at the swimming pool with your best friend who only wants to see how long they can hold their breath under water. Their sole interest is to keep trying to stay under longer and longer. Their head pops up out of the water: “How long that time? I can go longer”.
And this continues.
It continues until finally they go under and they stay under. They stay under too long, and they don’t come back up. So you dive in, wrap your arms around their waist, and pull them up on the edge of the pool. You try everything to bring them back to the light.
Miraculously, they cough and hack the water out of their lungs and finally take that desperate, deep gasp of elusive air. Your nerves are shot, but you’re relieved they survived this stupid ordeal.
Your friend takes a few minutes to get themselves together and up on their feet. They walk over and tap you on the shoulder: “How long was I under?” “Too long”, you say. “Yeah? I can go longer.”
Welcome to the Howard Ratner experience!
Howard (a superbly slimy Adam Sandler) has two modes: roving shark and conniving weasel. These modes fluidly alternate depending on Howard’s goal, which can change from minute to minute. The one thing that brings those two modes together is this: Howard is playing to win no matter what.
And you might say, doesn’t everyone want to win? The difference between Howard and the common person is philosophical. And Howard’s philosophy is this: when you play to win, whether it works out or not, you don’t lose; when you don’t make a play, you lose.
This is the fundamental part about compulsive gamblers that I could never understand. And compulsive gambling doesn’t have to apply to dice, or cards, or sports, or even to money. Howard has a big house, a jewelry shop, a beautiful wife (Idina Menzel), and a pile of kids. He also has an apartment where he keeps his gorgeous young girlfriend (Julia Fox).
Time and time again, we learn that Howard has made a play that didn’t work out for him. He owes money all over New York City, his marriage is all but gone, his jewelry shop
doesn’t have jewelry anyone would buy, and he has no friends to lean on. We don’t see the incidents that caused these circumstances, but we know Howard. And the only person who doesn’t want Howard to stop is Howard. Not if he can find a way to win and make everything all better.
You pray it never happens, but there could always be that one time when your friend goes to the pool and tries to break the record. They take a deep breath and plummet under the water. Despite the odds, this time they actually manage to break the record. The glory is theirs.
And with the glory comes the spoils.
Because, this time there’s no one outside the pool to drag him out. No one left who cares about whether or not you can break the record or beat the big odds. The spoils aren’t always the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He may have won the prize, but he lost the bet.
The Howard Ratner experience. Welcome to Uncut Gems.