Uncut Gems is a very wild thriller. If it were a book, it’d be a “page turner” that has the slightest of statements on how awful it is to step on people who have been stepped on for generations and how bad gambling addiction is.
As with all things that depict some terrible fiction I wonder how many people will watch this and think “gambling is fun” despite the punishment that Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) goes through, and more importantly what his loved ones go through. Sandler’s performance is kind of amazing from someone who is best known for his comedic roles, and those comedy films have been critical failures for years. As Howard Ratner, Sandler is a character that seems to feel no difficulty in putting his family through hell and destroying their lives even if Howard ostensibly loves them and tells them so, it’s clear that this isn’t enough, he isn’t really there for them. The words Howard says when he tells his kids how proud he is are hollow because the film is telling us Howard cares more about gambling than them.
Deriving entertainment from “what will happen next” in Uncut Gems is disturbing. What happens next is always someone getting hurt, terrified, or ruined because of Howard’s gambling addiction and we don’t find out what the consequences are for them, because the film is almost entirely focused on Howard’s perspective.
One of the saddest things about exciting movies like Uncut Gems is the fiction that the protagonist’s behavior is exciting and successful and romanticized. Howard would be very successful at gambling, he doesn’t lose as often as he should even when taking bets that others think are losing bets, if it weren’t for the meddling of another character in the film Howard would succeed, he would be rich. Ultimately, his gambling is a problem only in that the gambling introduces bad people into Howard’s life, but the film says it is those people who cause the worst of the problems, not Howard. I think that is sad, and much like other films about crime it still, pathetically, has a positive outlook on the activities it depicts… if only it weren’t for the violent criminals that get in the way. Much like The Irishman, another recent film that depicts bad people ruining the lives of their families, Uncut Gems makes its protagonist’s life a thrill. The people that suffer along the way? Uncut Gems doesn’t give a shit about them.
As a fiction, Uncut Gems is fine, it is exciting, it is ultimately as meaningless as the latest Marvel film in messaging and challenges practically nothing the viewer already thinks. In the universe of Uncut Gems, women are almost entirely brainless sex objects who only exist in their relation to men, white men are the functional actors but are failures at parenting. Racial minorities in Uncut Gems can only fulfill roles as athletes, sales people, and musicians obsessed with jewelry, money, sex, and success. Few characters besides Howard are anything but obstacles to his obtaining success, or money, or sex, and that’s the only bad thing that we are allowed to see in him.
I like Uncut Gems, but of course I like Uncut Gems. It is a movie built for me, a white male adult.