|'Uncut Gems': Frenetic: [fruh-net-ik] Filled With Excitement, Activity, or Confusion: Wild or Frantic|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires columnist|
05:14PM / Friday, January 03, 2020
Adam Sandler's partially tour de force and indubitably frenetic portrayal of New York Diamond District jeweler/gambler Howard Ratner in "Uncut Gems" is a wildly disturbing adventure yarn, the purpose of which I'm still trying to figure out. Neither a comprehensive character study of its anxiety-ridden, addictive personality nor a scientific delve into the protagonist's torturing affliction, Howard's pillar-to-post rampage in quest of that ultimate score courtesy of a raw, Ethiopian opal will leave you shockingly exhausted.
Nonetheless, when I recently issued that quasi-deterring cautionary to an acquaintance, she seemed even more anxious than before to witness the madness Sandler so convincingly perpetrates. Whether a function of age, advancing fuddy-duddyism or just being a full step behind the cultural acceptance of a certain quotient of lunacy in our society, I guess I'm missing something.
For starters, though I am vehemently against gambling, I am the proud possessor of a gambling story. I'll always know it was 1974, the year that James Caan starred as the title character in "The Gambler." As Axel Freed, an English professor, he is as dominated by the same, cruel whims and wiles of Lady Luck that impact Howard Ratner's 21 st Century example of the syndrome. You see, I was working on my critique when I decided to take a drive and get a breath of fresh air, whereupon as chance would have it I came upon a huge billboard that read
"Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-Gambler."
"Hmm," I thought. "... wonder if there's a clinical term for gambling addiction, analogous to dipsomania for alcoholism? It'd look good in my review."
Well, the receptionist at the other end of the pay phone I called from didn't know. But she'd inquire within and, per my request in those pre-cellphone days, leave the information with someone at my newspaper.
So, here's what happened. When I got back to the paper, Angela, our newest receptionist, just out of high school, called me over with a very discreet "Psst! Michael" and thereupon, hand cupped to cheek, whispered, "Gambler's Anonymous called."
"Oh, good," I exclaimed, informing why I had phoned. But Angela, issuing a charitable look, was having none of it. From that day on I was a marked man, compromised by whatever curse of DNA, environment or cosmic force that presumably compelled me to seek competitive action at every turn. Never again could a group of sports enthusiasts in the office discuss the probable odds at this weekend's games without Angela issuing a suppressing shush, lest I be driven to gamble the bread money and fall into whatever perfidy would follow from that.
But there is no Angela to check Howard Ratner, whose wild, cruising for a bruising roller-coaster ride through every available gambling venue includes a potentially murky, taboo element courtesy of his friendship with the Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett. Why, other than that he desperately wanted an entree into a film career, Garnett would accede to playing a character almost as smitten with jewels as Howard is struck by gambling, remains a curiosity. Because for all the glitz these gamblers, gangsters, ballplayers and unsavory jewelers seemingly aspire to in directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie's feverish nightmare of a film, there are few emulations seedier than the ones mirrored here.
Insofar as proving the romantic notion that every Pagliacci has a serious persona residing within him, iconically exampled by Jackie Gleason in "The Hustler" (1961) and Jerry Lewis in "The King of Comedy" (1982), this jury will hold judgment until Sandler's next effort in that direction. Granted, Howard is zany, crazy, insane and whatever underlined redundancy for lunatical you care to venture.
But while whatever condition he suffers from is deadly serious, he is more a caricature than a dramatic rendering.
Still, like a horrible accident on the side of the road, it is difficult to avert your eyes from him.
What is this aberration, this bizarre concoction of what the human experience can turn into when internal wires cross and hormones contraindicate? There is no propriety, no adhesion to accepted rules of society except under duress or threat of death. He is a one-man rage hellbent on each gambling score parlaying into the next until, at long last, he might reach the Valhalla of wagering. And then what?
Naturally, one hopes that Howard, if he ultimately survives the byzantine roadblocks to his high-stakes longshot, will take it as his opportunity for redemption. But then, as I am not an inveterate gambler, despite what Angela might have thought, the jagged edges of "Uncut Gems" cautioned me to discern between what is good old-fashioned optimism and what's simply a sucker bet.
"Uncut Gems," rated R, is an A24 release directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie and stars Adam Sandler, Julia Fox and Kevin Garnett. Running time: 135 minutes