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Film / Uncut Gems

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"You’re taking my money, all over town, placing bets!"
"Is it too late? I’m done. It means nothing. It meant nothing. Please, give me another shot."
Howard Ratner

Uncut Gems is a 2019 crime-thriller film directed by Josh and Benny Safdie (of Good Time fame) and starring Adam Sandler. It was released on December 13th, 2019 by distributor A24 in the United States and distributed worldwide by Netflix on January 30th, 2020.

Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, a charismatic New York Diamond District jeweler and gambling addict whose clients are some of the most powerful and wealthiest people in the city. When a potential transaction of his goes awry and an old, persistent Loan Shark of his starts swimming straight for him, Howard must make a series of precarious high-stake acts as everything from his family, his creditors, and his clients start to catch up to him in more ways than one.

The rest of the cast includes Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, The Weeknd, and Kevin Garnett. The film, which was in the works by the Safdies for more than ten years, primarily due to the lack of financial backing and an attached star, was written by Ronald Bronstein and the Safdies. The cinematography was done by Darius Khondji, and the music was composed by Daniel Lopatin, AKA Oneohtrix Point Never.


Preview: Trailer

Uncut Gems contains examples of:

  • Adam Westing: The Weeknd insisted on being portrayed as an obnoxious diva, which he says was accurate to his behavior at the time of the movie.
  • All for Nothing: Howard risks everything on one last wager. He manages to sneak the cash to his girlfriend, and his girlfriend evades the thugs to place the bet. He wins big, and his girlfriend gets the money, but it doesn't matter because Phil shoots and kills him moments after his victory.
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Howard notes that, in spite of being Jewish, he had no idea about the existence of Ethiopian Jews, many of whom are trapped in Africa mining gems. In reality, any observant Jew would be aware of Ethiopian Jews, though not necessarily the current status of those still in Africa.
  • All-Natural Gem Polish: Subverted, per the title. The gigantic, uncut opal only has a few "windows" that showcase its beauty, and the rest looks like an ordinary rock.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Was Julia about to cheat on Howard with The Weeknd? The Weeknd was definitely making advances, which she was repelling, but flirtatiously. Her resolve did appear to be weakening, but she may have just been trying to close the sale as she claims.
    • The opal ends up being vastly undervalued by the auction house. Howard claims it was vindictive given the last-minute circumstances and if appraised by a third party would still be over $1 million, but when reviewing it by hand a second time, the supernatural color seemed duller, implying that their obsession with the gem made it seem brighter before.
  • Animal Motifs: The slimy, greedy, unreliable, lying and unfaithful Howard Ratner is ratlike. In addition to his name, the character has a noticeable overbite produced by giving Adam Sandler a set of fake upper teeth.
  • Artistic License – History: Zig-zagged. Although the movie accurately depicts the course of the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, and Kevin Garnett's up-and-down performance, the movie also utilizes Blade, a helicopter rental company, as an important plot device, despite Blade only having been created in 2014.
  • As Himself: Basketball legend Kevin Garnett and R&B star The Weeknd both play themselves, with Garnett in particular having a sizable role. (Interestingly, the movie takes place in 2012, when The Weeknd was a darling of the underground as opposed to the pop star he currently is. He even wears his hair the same as he did in 2012!)
  • Author Appeal:
    • The Safdie Brothers are noted basketball fans, and many of Howard's bets involve basketball. Retired basketball star Kevin Garnett plays himself, and the Safdie brothers were initially resistant to the idea because they're hardcore Knicks fans and Garnett was a legendary Celtic. Howard, being a New Yorker, wears a Knicks championship ring.
    • Howard's Jewish cultural identity (if not his faith) factors heavily into the film, and the Safdies are themselves New York Jews.
  • Bastard Understudy: Phil disobeys Arno and murders him in cold blood after his boss freaks out upon Howard's death.
  • Berserk Button: Although pretty much everyone has a Hair-Trigger Temper, Howard's particular button is pushed when Arno sends his goons to intimidate Howard at his daughter's school play. He becomes so enraged that he attacks the goons in the hallway, once again ending up in way over his head.
  • Big Applesauce: Apart from the prologue, it takes place almost entirely in New York.
  • Big Eater: We only see Gary, Howard's bookie, twice, and both times he's in an upscale restaurant. The second time, he's even in the kitchen, giving very particular instructions to the chef.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Phil ends up murdering his boss, Arno.
  • Book-Ends: The film begins with a worm's eye view of an opal, which transitions into a trip through Howard's colon. It ends with a trip into Howard's bullet wound and transitions into opalescent colors.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Howard's ultimate fate.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: In the single full conversation they share together, Howard's daughter can barely stand to talk to him for longer than a few moments. Like many things in the movie, it's unclear whether this is her normal behavior, she's pissed off that he missed a portion of her play or related to Howard's behavior around his family in general.
  • Blunt "Yes": This exchange:
    Phil: (angrily) You havin' a good time?!
    Howard: ...yes.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Howard spends the entire film inconveniencing, delaying or just plain irritating Arno's goon Phil in some way. This ultimately earns him a bullet to the face.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Despite everything else completely falling apart for him, we're never told the nature of his debts. Howard makes two complicated, long-shot bets, and they both hit—Howard may fail at everything else, but is apparently good at sports gambling.
  • Butt-Monkey: Howard gets beaten up, humiliated, screamed at by just about everybody, verbally emasculated by his wife, locked naked in the trunk of a car, and eventually shot in the face.
  • Call-Back: Just like in the directors' previous film, Good Time, the end features an incredibly valuable object being dangled out of a high window. One of the characters even asks if Howard is having a "good time."
  • The Cameo:
    • Tilda Swinton and Natasha Lyonne are heard as, respectively, the auction house manager and a Celtics staff member who talk to Howard over the phone.
    • John Amos of Good Times appears briefly in the movie as himself as one of Howard's neighbors, which also doubles as a Stealth Pun if you know the Safdies' last movie, Good Time.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Overly Long Gag about Howard's security door failing to open becomes essential in the climax when he uses it to trap the loan sharks in his shop while Julia goes to Connecticut to bet their money on the semifinals.
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Howard is a sleazy, hedonistic dirtbag who repeatedly proves to be his own worst enemy.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: This is a deeply profane movie. Even Howard's kids drop a few f-bombs. In fact, it's so profane that it's currently ranked fourth in the "most f-bombs dropped in a movie" category, with 500 uses.
  • Complexity Addiction: Howard has multiple opportunities to square his debts... or to concoct even riskier bets by cheating everyone around him, up to and including his own family. He always chooses the latter.
  • Cool Shades: Howard wears them in the last third of the film to cover up the black eyes he got from Phil after the auction.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Howard's prime mistake was flaunting the opal to Garnett, and then loaning it to him all while on a time crunch. The underlying stress of the entire movie hinges on Garnett not returning the stone promptly, which has multiple domino effects: Howard habitually took the championship ring given to him as collateral and pawned it in order to bet on the game, the bet attracts the attention of Arno and his enforcers who start putting more violent pressure on him, Howard had no time to get the stone appraised by his own guys before handing it to the auction house who (ambiguously) undervalue it, this only leads to getting far less for the gem than expected and he places a monumental bet to try to recap his losses, which again puts him in danger of Arno.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Incredibly, Howard's final gambit, betting all the money he owes to Arno on the NBA Semifinals, actually works, as the Celtics win and his bet pays off big time. Unfortunately, Phil is too fed up with Howard's shit by this point and decides it would be easier to just kill him and loot his store.
  • Cringe Comedy: Some of Howard's escapades are so desperate and pathetic that they devolve into this, such as the scene where he's forced to ask his neighbors if his son can use the bathroom in their apartment because he doesn't want his son to see the apartment he uses to have sex with Julia.
  • Cutting the Knot: By the end of the film, Phil has had it with Howard's increasingly audacious behavior and decides the simplest way to get his money back would be to just shoot him and take everything in his store.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Howard tricks Julia into having phone sex through texts and pictures while he's spying on her from the closet.
  • Destination Defenestration: Phil and Nico hold Howard out a window when he reveals that he bet their money on a basketball game.
  • Determinator: Howard, despite being caught in a huge mess, is determined to get out the situation he's in by performing a series of high-stakes acts that threaten him if things go wrong.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Howard never considered the idea that locking violent mobsters in his building was never going to go over well with them no matter how much money he made from winning. Even worse is that he lets them back into the shop where he's defenseless. Especially considering Phil has been very clearly shown to be a violent psychopath, and brandished a gun at Howard while trapped.
  • Downer Ending: Howard's gamble paid off big, but Phil still shoots Howard in the face, and the movie ends with him bleeding out on the floor of his shop. The only possible silver lining is that his family is safe (albeit now without a father), and Julia made off with millions (which isn't a particularly great thing in and of itself, seeing as she's a stupid, selfish, materialistic moron). That being said, Howard did die at probably the happiest moment of his life, which might be all that matters to him by that point.
  • Dragon Ascendant: As soon as Howard wins his biggest bet on the Celtics game and frees Arno, Phil, and Nico, Phil shoots him without hesitation, kills Arno when he protests, and then loots Howard's store alongside Nico.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Howard notes that Arno is completely unthreatening without Phil to back him up. Indeed, Phil completely loses patience with his boss over the course of the movie and unhesitatingly kills him along with Howard at the end.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: After Howard breaks up with her, Julia responds by getting "Howie" tattooed on her ass.
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: Unsurprising, considering that this is a film that revolves around the business of the Diamond District of New York. Including a diamond-encrusted Furby.
  • Fan Disservice: Adam Sandler appears nude in this film due to a Shameful Strip.
  • Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Dinah loathes her husband, and wants to get divorced as soon as possible. Howard, on the other hand, isn't so sure, and does his best to delay the inevitable.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Basketball fans will know that Kevin Garnett will lead the Celtics to victory in Game 7 of the Semifinals.
  • Gainax Ending: The final shot zooms into the bullet hole in Howard's face, through a CGI network of strange patterns resembling the inside of the black opal, and ends on a shot of what appears to be outer space before the credits roll.
  • The Gambling Addict: Howard is one, making big bets on basketball. His bookie isn't afraid to tell him that one audacious bet is the stupidest thing he's ever heard. Unsurprisingly, he owes a lot to people and is a target of loan sharks.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Howard gets shot in the head and killed instantly in the midst of probably the biggest gambling high of his entire life, and even as a corpse he has a contented smile on his face. It's likely he got killed before he could even register that there was a gun in his face.
  • Gold Digger: Julia is much younger and more attractive than her boss, Howard, but sleeping with him gives her a gorgeous apartment in Manhattan. In fact, this gets entirely subverted: Julia is the most loyal and reliable person in Howard's life. After Howard breaks up with her, she gets "Howie" tattooed on her ass.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: A pair of bumbling Jewish men are after Howard for some unresolved debts, but Howard successfully shoos them away every time and they never pose a real threat, eventually just disappearing from the story entirely during the climax.
  • Greedy Jew: Howard is Jewish, and the film revolves around him trying to hustle his way into money to close deals and pay off debts. Given than he's already a successful diamond merchant, and all his debts seem to be related to reckless sports betting, his real problem is being a thrill-seeker rather than being greedy.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Most people in this movie have a very short fuse. Almost every interaction could turn into a screaming match at any moment.
  • Historical Fiction: The film is set in 2012. The Boston Celtics' performance in the 2011-2012 playoff semifinals are a prominent part of the film.
  • Historical In-Joke: Bet you didn't know that Kevin Garnett's performance in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals came from a possibly-magical black opal, huh?
  • It Will Never Catch On: Subverted. Julia makes an accurate prediction about The Weeknd early in his career, saying "He’s going to be major, even though he’s from Canada."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arno. Like most of the people in Howard's life, he's tired of the gambling junkie's debts and debauchery, even going so far as to order his thugs to accost Howard at his daughter's play, strip him naked and lock him in the trunk of his car, and later break his nose. But by Celtics Game 7, it's clear that Arno was only trying to humiliate Howard into paying up. He had no intention of inflicting any real harm on his brother-in-law, and was even impressed by Howard's successful bet. Unfortunately, Phil wasn't moved at all and wastes no time in murdering both Howard and Arno in cold blood.
  • Jeweler's Eye Loupe: Howard lets Kevin Garnett use the loupe to inspect the opal, and Kevin gets so enamored with it that he wants to buy the opal on the spot.
  • Jews Love to Argue: Howard, his family, and much of the diamond district are Jewish, and they spend most of the film arguing with each other.
  • Kavorka Man: Howard is a paunchy, middle-aged sleazebag with some extremely unhealthy habits, but is not only married to the attractive Dinah (who can still fit in her bat mitzvah dress after three children) but also has a mistress in Julia, who's so gorgeous that most men can't help but flirt with her. Though this is subverted with Dinah — though she seems to still have an iota of love for him, she nevertheless loathes him and is no longer attracted to him — Julia sincerely adores him.
  • Kick the Dog: When Demany gets fed up with Howard and storms out of his office, he pours a bunch of red wine into the fish tank purely out of spite.
  • Lame Comeback: This gem of an exchange:
    Gary: I'll tell you what I know. That's the dumbest fucking bet I've ever heard of.
    Howard: ...I disagree. (turns to walk away) I disagree, Gary!
  • Like Father, Like Son: For all of Howard's failings towards his other children (he misses part of his daughter's play and neglects tucking in his younger son so that he can watch the NBA game he bet on), he seemingly has a great relationship with his older son, and we see the pair over their mutual love of basketball.
  • Loan Shark: Arno, who is backed up by his heavies Phil and Nico. Despite Howard's mounting debts, Arno is reluctant to actually kill Howard because they're related by marriage.
  • Man Bites Man: Howard bites Phil's arm to get out of a headlock at one point. Phil complains about it throughout the next scene.
  • Matzo Fever: Arno is an Armenian who has married into a Jewish family. His Jewish in-laws make loaded comments about him being a gentile behind his back.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Outside of Kevin Garnett, nobody in the movie treats the black opal as anything but an incredibly valuable gemstone. And yet, Garnett has visions staring into the opal, performs much better with the opal as his good luck charm, and Howard meets his death not long after selling it.
  • Meaningful Name: Julia's name is sometimes shortened to "Jules", which sounds exactly like "jewels". Quite appropriate for a materialistic young woman in a love affair with a jeweler.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The black opal is a classic example. Howard sees it as the key to getting out of the hole he's in, while Kevin Garnett sees it as a possibly-magical good luck charm that will propel him to success in the playoffs.
  • The Mistress: Julia is the young mistress of Howard's as well as his employee. While separated from his wife, he lets her stay in his bachelor's apartment.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The ecstatic mood from Howard winning his last bet is rudely interrupted when Phil abruptly shoots him in the face. Played with, as the heavenly soundtrack continues on uninterrupted and the film cuts to other scenes of Julia and Howard's family celebrating the win, showing how meaningless Howard's life ultimately turned out to be.
    • The film practically begins on a mood whiplash when the camera zooms into the ethereal interior of a beautiful black opal...and seamlessly transitions into what turns out to be an inside view of Howard's colon.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Julia is gorgeous, and has a notable scene with Howard where she masturbates a little and is wearing only lingerie.
  • No Indoor Voice: Howard has a very short fuse and starts screaming at the top of his lungs whenever things go wrong, which is all the time. Several characters admonish him to calm down or lower his voice, which only makes him louder.
  • Not So Stoic: A woman Howard calls on the phone regarding the opal situation starts off clipped and professional, but the moment Howard becomes rude to her she starts to hurl insults and profanities with the best of them.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Played straight with Arno, the movie's primary antagonist, who's related to Howard through marriage. Subverted with Gooey, Howard's wealthy father-in-law, who is friendly to Howard during the Passover seder and even goes along with one of his schemes (albeit reluctantly).
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Howard is an excellent gambler, but a horrible boss. He completely ignores an upset employee to fawn over his new opal. He alienates his partner, Demany, and nearly drives away Julia, his most loyal worker. His criminal troubles constantly put the shop itself in danger.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Howard gets shot with a very small pistol, so his face is perfectly intact apart from a small bullet hole beneath his eye at the end.
  • Protective Charm: Kevin Garnett believes that the opal empowers his athletic ability, and he's willing to pay handsomely to own it. Notably, he has a great game with the opal, plays poorly without it, and then wins the final game after buying it. Howard himself dies a few hours after selling it.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Arno and his henchmen beat up Howard, take his clothes, and force him into the trunk of his own car. Howard is only in the trunk for a few minutes–he calls his wife to come out and unlock it.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Make no mistake, this film has some noisy characters, which is what you'd expect when most of them are hot-tempered ne'er-do-wells trying to make themselves heard in crowded and chaotic urban environments. Their conversations are so full of repetition, shouting, and interruptions of all kinds that their more conventionally cinematic exchanges feel like an example of Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene. Some of this may be intentional, but some of it may also be due to a relative lack of professional actors among the cast.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Dinah gives a particularly venomous one to Howard when he asks her to give him another chance, making it extremely clear that they're completely done.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Despite being a loan shark who keeps a pair of violent mafiosos on retainer, Arno gives Howard multiple opportunities to pay him back and discourages unnecessary violence. This backfires when Phil's patience finally gives out, earning both Howard and Arno himself bullets to the face.
  • Red Herring: The film starts with Howard's colonoscopy, and his doctor notes polyps that will need a biopsy. Howard awaits results of the tests, but he's later revealed to have no issues and the subject is never brought up again.
  • Right Under Their Noses: Arno's goons wait in the lobby of the casino, looking to intercept Julia and the multi-million dollar payout. Julia has her new friend carry duffel bags full of cash right past them out to her in a limo.
  • Self-Deprecation: The Weeknd is portrayed, at his own request, as a stuck-up diva who gets cockblocked by Howard.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Things never go right for Howard in the film, and the one time that things go right when he wins big on Game 7 of the Celtics-76ers playoffs, he is fatally shot.
  • Shameful Strip: Arno tries to teach Howard a lesson by stripping him naked and locking him in the trunk of his own car, forcing Howard to pitifully ask his wife to let him out over the phone.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Howard and Julia's relationship gets quite ugly at several points in the movie, but it's still by far the most loving relationship that Howard's a part of.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: This is a bleak film. It pulls no punches in showing just how self-destructive a gambling addiction can be. Even when Howard's given opportunities to pay back his massive debts, he instead either wastes the money on frugalities, or makes incredibly risky bets for no reason other than because he wants to win. This creates a vicious self-destructive cycle that he not only can't break, he seems to be unwilling to even attempt to break.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death: Right after winning the biggest bet of his life, Howard gets unceremoniously popped by Phil, who has long since crossed his Rage Breaking Point.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Howard is killed at the end of the movie, which he could have easily avoided by just paying the mobsters the money he owed them from the get-go. He had multiple chances to do so but constantly made more gambling bets instead, most damningly during the climax where he had the money ready to give to them but immediately bets on the Celtics game instead while locking the mobsters in his building.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The film was released in 2019, but is set in 2012.
  • Whammy Bid: Howard puts the prized opal up for auction. He enlists his father-in-law to drive up the bidding, which predictably backfires.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Howard's life is just a back-and-forth of getting just a little luck, and then immediately losing it.
    • His first bet on the Celtics actually is successful... Until Arno reveals that he cancelled the bet, rendering the victory worthless.
    • The opal itself was supposed to be worth over $1 million, but when it's actually appraised, it's only in the very low six figures — still enough to pay off Howard's debts, but not enough for a big payout. Garnett still wants to buy it, but Howard's greed leads him to drive up the auction price until Garnett declines to keep bidding.
    • Garnett still wants the opal, however, so Howard manages to get his ring back and successfully sell him the stone, which is enough needed to pay off his debts to mobsters who are currently in his office. But instead he bets on the next Celtics game for a massive payout worth millions, and actually manages to succeed... Only to be immediately shot in the head at his moment of victory by one of the frustrated mobsters.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Being as the film centers around a bunch of New York Jews, this is to be expected.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Howard cheats on his wife with Julia, a young assistant at his jewelry store; he pays rent for her apartment.
    • Howard catches Julia in the bathroom with The Weeknd. Julia maintains they were just doing coke, but Howard is convinced that she was cheating on him. She makes it up to him by having his name tattooed on her ass.

"This is me. This is how I win."


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