RogerBW's Blog

Uncut Gems 08 June 2023

2019 crime tragedy, dir. Josh and Benny Safdie, Adam Sandler; IMDb / allmovie. Gambling with the mob's money is not good for your health.

This film was very positively received. 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, in a bunch of best-films-of-the-year lists, several Independent Spirit awards, a Criterion Collection edition. I hated every moment of it.

Howard Ratner is a jeweller who sells tacky tat to people with with more money than sense or taste. He's also a gambling addict. And I have to say that this is well-observed: he has the classic addict's obsession, in which anything else, friendships, promises, common sense, will be subordinated to getting more of The Thing. Apparently this is a career-best performance from Adam Sandler. What it isn't is interesting to watch.

Almost everyone who knows Howard has been burned by him before and knows better than to trust him in even the smallest thing (the only exceptions are his mistress, who presumably hasn't known him for long, and his father-in-law who has rather less excuse). And I rapidly become one of those people: yeah Howard you have a big plan to solve everything, but I know it's just going to go wrong and get you into more trouble, the same as every other plan you have.

So yes, I am intellectually aware of the tension rising as Howard follows his addiction (if he wins, he did something right, so make another bet; if he loses, he needs more money, so make another bet), and I see that as in traditional tragedy the things that do for him are entirely of his own making; but I don't sympathise with him even a little bit, so I don't feel it. All that's left is Howard trying things on and the entire world trying to manage a basic level of politeness in the face of his constant stream of bullshit.

In fact I got a strong impression of a Trump-like character: the constant obsession with beating someone in a deal, the assumption that if you've done that they must love you, the utter lack of an actual personality to enjoy the nice things his lifestyle has brought him, the insulting manner to everyone until they have a thing that he wants.

The film wants us to think that Howard's wife Dinah is an unreasonable harridan, but everything she says is entirely reasonable. It wants us to think that his mistress Julia is unquestioningly in love with him, but she doesn't actually do anything that wouldn't also be consistent with simply liking the money he gives her. (If I were a fanfic writer, they'd meet at the support group for Ex-Partners of Unreasonable Assholes and make friends.)

The film wants us to think, in that last long slow zoom into Dead Howard, that oh boy wasn't this guy just a saint and isn't it a shame that he's dead? No. No, it really isn't. It could have happened two hours and fifteen minutes sooner.

I did like Daniel Lopatin's electronic score. It's a terrible fit for the film, but I enjoyed it in its own right.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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