Column Title: Money is a Gateway Drug – An Uncut Gems Review

Author: Marisa Reyes-Pacheco

Just like anyone else, I love a good redemption story. The hype for Uncut Gems (2019) directed by Josh and Benny Safdie made me excited to see for myself just how our beloved comedy-dad, Adam Sandler, would take on a role that he hasn’t been given many opportunities to fulfill. The Safdie brothers are all about creating high-stakes, anxiety fuelling films like Good Time (2017) and Heaven Knows What (2014). Uncut Gems was no exception to that. The brothers wrote this film at the age(s) of forteen and initially wrote and offered the part to Adam Sandler, who declined due to scheduling… and having no idea who they were. The success of their first few films led Sandler to reconsider, and having been waiting for the man himself to play the role of Howie Ratner, Uncut Gems finally came to be. But with all of this time to cater this film to Sandler, it’s confusing to me as to why I thoroughly did not enjoy this film. I really, really wanted to. My hottest take to date: the Oscars may have been right with this one. 

The film focuses on Howie Ratner (Adam Sandler), a father, gems dealer and gambling addict. It is made apparent that while there are a few people that truly care for Ratner, most of the people in his life hate him to some degree or are only associated with him for the money that he never seems to have. Howie Ratner is so unlikeable it makes me wonder if the character description was just an outline of the deadbeat dad that pretends they know every lesson to life. Throughout the film, Howie constantly gets in over his head and digs himself into a hole; deeper and deeper until finally, he can’t go down any further. He owes seemingly everyone who exists something and is constantly testing his limits. Our protagonist supports his manipulative girlfriend, that is way too young for him, more than his wife and kids that already hate him, treats everyone who isn’t benefiting him like human garbage, but still expects so much from the world. He is so blinded by money and how he believes it will solve all of his piling problems that he seems to ignore the fact that if he simply matched his actions to his words, he wouldn’t be in half of the situations he gets himself into. Howie Ratner is a terrible character that develops in no way throughout the duration of the film, but this is probably the point. He is so deep into the world of gambling, our protagonist gains and spends money like it’s a sport. But this goes to show that this is how this man gets by and is sadly so tightly tied to his addiction, in hopes of finding some sort of security in his life. By creating such a fast-paced film, the Safdie brothers allow audiences to visualize just how quickly and mercilessly addiction can control a person, perhaps without them even realizing. 

While Uncut Gems was successful in still making me anxious, it only left me disappointed at how predictable it ended up being. Howie Ratner, as by now I hope you can tell, is not a man who is known as responsible by anyone. Any “problem solving” that actually happens are tainted by the short cuts Howie tries to take, which eventually lead to his downfall. The attempt to show a man struggling to keep his head afloat fell flat by the lack of remorse he had for any of his actions and the way he treated people, which are things he is seemingly oblivious to, due to all of the pressure Howie feels from stressful situations. It was difficult to empathize or care for this character at all and believe he needed someone to finally step in and help him realize the consequences of his actions, but that would’ve been an entirely different story. Maybe that’s what the Safdie brothers wanted; a long, spiralling lesson that addiction unfortunately has the ability to consume people. The films greatest takeaway was that money is the greatest drug; without it, some people genuinely fall into chaotic cycles they can’t find their ways out of.

Marisa Reyes-Pacheco | we should be able to see the world in green | KXSU Arts Reporter

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