There is a phenomenon where your brain can react to someone else’s mistake in the same way as if you yourself made the mistake. It is why you cannot help but comment when you watch someone make a typo.
Gamblers use the term “sweat” to describe the feeling of waiting out a bet or enduring a betting session. And gamblers recognize this second hand phenomenon by using the same term when watching someone else’s bet.
The movie “Uncut Gems” is essentially one long sweat.
Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a middle-aged Jewish jeweler in New York who has taken his degenerate life style past what he can support.
His bookies no longer want his action, his loan sharks are calling in his markers, his wife is through with his fooling around, and his family (to a surprising extent) is done enabling his behavior.
Howard has a scheme to get the money to make things right, and we spend the length of the movie watching him juggle everyone who wants a piece of him – money lenders, business partners, mistress, wife, kids – while trying to pull off this big score.
It is a roller coaster.
There are good movies that portray the obsession of gambling, like “California Split” (1974), “Owning Mahoney” (2003), and most often cited “The Gambler” (1974).
“The Gambler” includes a scene where the protagonist Axel Feed (James Caan) huddles in a bathroom late at night to listen to play-by-play of a basketball game on the other side of the country. It is one of the best depictions of a sweat on film, and certainly for sports gambling.
“Uncut Gems” tops that with a sweat of a different basketball game that lasts easily five times longer on film, and will have the heart of any sports bettor racing furiously.
Directors Benny and Josh Safdie, along with co-writer Ronald Bronstein, orchestrate the climax of Ratner’s scheming to coincide with that game, and the result is a rush.
Adam Sandler turns in a wonderful performance, and we feel the same mix of attraction and frustration that all the people around Ratner feel for him.
Idina Manzel. Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian, LaKeith Stanfield, and Julia Fox all deliver that swirl of love, resignation, and co-dependency as the people in Ratner’s immediate circle.
It is Kevin Garnett, though, that grants the perspective to see Sandler not as a movie star, but as a small scale hustler. Not only with his sheer physical size, but also with an on-screen intensity and his own well known celebrity as a professional athlete.
The Safdie brothers do well to talk about Kevin Garnett first, setting the stage for his entrance. It makes Garnett an anticipated center of attention, and allows Sandler to retreat into the role of the failed, broken man.
It is a similar trick to what Al Pacino pulls off in Donnie Brasco. Garnett’s screen presence, like Johnny Depp’s, helps Sandler do that.
Ultimately it is Sandler and the pacing that the Safdie brothers put him through that make the movie work.
By spending so much time with Ratner’s family and business, they also manage to paint a backdrop of Jewish family life, and ruthless New York commerce that add a richness and intimacy to his unfolding plans.
We really do feel Ratner’s mistakes like our own. The tension grows through the entire movie.
One hell of a sweat.