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Laramie Movie Scope: Uncut Gems

A gambler's life spins out of control

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 27, 2019 – A jeweler with a big gambling debt problem, a wife who wants a divorce, and friends, customers and employees who feel betrayed by him all collide in a major crisis in New York.

Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, the jeweler in the middle of this buzz saw drama that is reminiscent of Martin Scorcese's 1973 drama about another man in trouble, “Mean Streets.” Ratner is looking for a million dollar score that will get him out of debt with some unsavory characters who are threatening him, including his loan shark brother-in-law, Arno (played by Eric Bogosian of “Cadillac Records”).

Ratner's marriage is on the rocks and he has a mistress on the side, Julia (played by Julia Fox) who is also an employee at his jewelry store, located in the diamond district of New York City. Ratner has been planning a big score for over a year, scheming to get a valuable multicolored uncut opal that was stolen from a Ethiopian Jewish mine shipped illegally to him. He hopes to auction it for over $1 million.

Ratner is running out of time on his gambling debts, which he has been financing through various shady deals, like pawning watches and jewelry that he does not own, borrowing money from loan sharks, and trying to pay off gambling debts by making more risky bets. One of his valued customers is NBA basketball star Kevin Garnett (playing himself in this movie) who badly wants the African opal as a good luck charm. Ratner loans him the opal, then bets on Garnett's next game. He wins the bet, sort of.

Some of the gangsters that Ratner borrowed money from learn about the opal and the auction. They grab Ratner, rough him up and let him know that whatever the proceeds are from the upcoming auction of the opal, that money belongs to them, not Ratner. When the auction doesn't work out as planned, Ratner tries one last desperate gamble to make the big score.

The movie is all about Ratner's desperate wheeling and dealing, his high-stakes gambling and the way he takes advantage of his friends, employees and family to just barely stay afloat. He has an uncanny ability to think on his feet when facing setbacks, finding a way out of situations where he seems to be trapped. He is constantly probing and prodding people to see just how far he can push them to get what he wants from them.

Sandler is fascinating to watch in this role as the shady wheeler dealer. He whipsaws from emotional highs, from tenderness and mischief to devastating lows, like a manic depressive. He's got charm, as well as hair-trigger anger and aggressiveness. His feelings seem to be all over the map. Julia Fox gives an excellent performance as well.

Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie (who also wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein) this is a taut thriller, despite the fact that the basic story is predictable. This is like watching a guy juggling chain saws that are running at full speed. You know something bad is going to happen, but how long can he keep this up? Watching Howard Ratner desperately juggle all these bets and deals is something to behold. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]