By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
For a jaw-dropping, exhilarating, adrenaline filled ride that won’t put the viewer in peril, check out the new film “Uncut Gems,” starring comedian Adam Sandler, LaKeith Stanfield, NBA great Kevin Garnett, The Weeknd, Idina Menzel, Judd Hirsch and a surprising cameo by veteran actor John Amos.
The plot of “Uncut Gems” is as follows: A charismatic New York City jeweler always on the lookout for the next big score makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime. Howard, played by Sandler, must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.
Garnett came out of Chicago’s Farragut High School and had 21 years on NBA rosters that included the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boston Celtics, and the Brooklyn Nets, and a majority of “Uncut Gems” revolves around him and finally his score in a basketball game that occurred in 2010 when he was playing for the Boston Celtics.
The film opens with a scene from an Ethiopian mine, where a miner has been injured as they pick through and discover a huge uncut opal rock, which is believed to be worth at least a million dollars. Howard has been in touch with the miners to purchase the rock, so he can offer it up for auction. The explosive scene with the mine principals tending to the hurt miner is chilling enough, and then the camera cuts to Howard having a colonoscopy where the physician finds a large polyp.
Next, the film moves to a scene in the jewelry store, and there is an assorted bunch of people crowding the display cases. It is a scene in which any sane person would not want to be involved. Stanfield as Demany uses the store and his connection to Howard to make extra money. It seems to be his only hustle. He brings the hip hop crew into the store to purchase gold chains, watches, etc., and he gets a cut on each sale.
Garnett comes into the shop with Demany, and Howard brags about the opal rock. Suddenly Garnett wants the rock, saying that it will give him good luck on the basketball court. He trades one of his championship rings in exchange for the rock. Howard can’t sit still for a moment without sports gambling, so he pawns Garnett’s ring and uses the money to place a bigger bet on a basketball game.
One thing leads to another. Howard has loan sharks after him because he owes them money, and he, in turn, keeps finding ways to get yet more money to place on bigger bets to help increase his winnings. All in the hopes of having the money to pay off the pawn shops and gun-toting thugs who are always after him. Howard has a wife and a couple of kids, but he also has a girlfriend played by Julia Fox who works at the shop, enticing customers into buying overpriced jewelry with her low-cut blouses and tight skirts. After a while, Howard’s family is put in danger, but he is so strung out in his gambling addiction that he doesn’t take care to make sure they are entirely protected.
As the date for the auction draws closer, Howard doesn’t have the rock, because Garnett is holding on to it for good luck. Howard finally delivers the rock to the auction house but is told that it has been appraised at a quarter of a million dollars at best—not the $1 million that he had hoped. He ends up using his relative Gooey, played by the 84-year-old Hirsch, to bid on the rock, but Garnett is at the auction, too. Instead of letting Garnett just walk away with the rock and the higher bid, Howard successfully regains possession of the rock—only to begin another cat and mouse game as he tries to sell it back to Garnett.
One Twitter user wrote: “Watching Uncut Gems was a chaotic anxiety inducing roller coaster that left me with sweaty palms and an unbelievable amount of respect for Adam Sandler.” I agree with this user. I was squirming in my seat and moving up to hear better with each perilous move by Howard. He kept putting himself at risk and coming through victoriously—only to land back in a similar circumstance. He fed off of the merry-go-round pace excitement.
“Uncut Gems” is scene after scene of chaos, and Sandler never lets up. He seems to be on “ten” from the beginning of the film until its tragic end. The film is filled with pulsating music, high-stakes gambling and clips of bygone basketball games. Thrown into the mix is a concert with The Weeknd, a cameo by veteran actor John Amos and enough of an urban supporting cast—led by Stanfield wearing pigtail braids and gold chains—to make this one crazy ride. Admittedly, “Uncut Gems” is fast paced and some things might become a bit garbled, but Sandler is fantastic in a film that takes him away from his traditional comedic roles. The film is playing everywhere.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, [email protected].