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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Obnoxious Character v Obnoxious Movie: "Uncut Gems"

Spoiler alert. This review reveals the end of "Uncut Gems."

Someone needs to tell the Safdie Brothers, the writers, producers, and directors of "Uncut Gems," that there is a difference between an obnoxious character and an obnoxious, unwatchable movie. Case in point: "Death of a Salesman." Arthur Miller's classic play depicts a man who, like Howard Ratner, is a desperate, unlikable loser, but the power of the play is that it makes you care about Willy Loman and see Willy Loman in people you know in real life. In "Uncut Gems," you just want Howard Ratner to meet his inevitable end quicker so that your suffering can stop.

"Uncut Gems" is all about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a greedy, scheming, shallow, disloyal, irrational gambling addict and gem merchant. He works in Manhattan's diamond district. The movie is loud with a nonstop, intrusive soundtrack that was devised by CIA torture experts.

The film begins with a grisly scene in an African gem mine. Black bodies sweat, strain, and are injured. The camera lingers on an open wound. The movie is reminding us that Howard's profits are built on the suffering of the exploited poor. In the US, Howard sells his tacky baubles to African American clientele, including a basketball player.

The movie switches to Howard's colonoscopy. Yes, you get to see the inside of Howard's colon as his doctor narrates. Does it enhance your viewing experience to see the inside of another man's intestines? Your tastes differ from mine.

Once the movie gets started, you see Howard struck and humiliated by loan sharks. Eventually he is stripped naked and locked in the trunk of his car. His must call his estranged wife, who regards him with complete disdain, to rescue him. I guess watching all this would be satisfying to sadists.

Eventually Howard's schemes result in his being shot to death. The end. You just spent two hours of your life watching a loud, obnoxious movie about a character you can't like, respect, or care about.

Howard is a living embodiment of negative stereotypes of Jews as greedy shysters. Josh Safdie said in an interview with Slate, "Howard is the long delineation of stereotypes that were forced onto us in the Middle Ages, when the church was created, when Jews were not counted toward population, and their only way in, their only way of accruing status as an individual, as a person who was considered a human being, was through material consumption. That was the only way in. And I think what’s happened over the years is it’s kind of morphed and almost turned into Kabuki theater. Because as assimilation has accrued, the foundation, the DNA of the strive has become kind of cartoonized in a weird way. What you’re seeing in the film is a parable. What are the ill effects of overcompensation?"

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