Updated: Jan 22, 2021
This is our first article of 2021 (a long awaited one at that). If you know us, we typical do spoiler free reviews on Movies & TV shows here on Popcorn & Cornflakes. Uncut Gems is a different kind of experience. For us to fully explain the intricacies of this movie, we have to go all in. This is how we win. Let's get right to the review with full spoilers
Please do not read if you have not seen the movie!
There have been countless movies where the audience roots for the protagonist to overcome all of the odds. It is natural because we are trained to focus on the main character and empathize with their way of being. In Uncut Gems, however, we have an Anti-Hero who borders Villain status. Enter Howard Ratner. This is a man who has a serious gambling addiction which is one of the focal points of the movie. He is the source of immense anxiety throughout the movie for the audience but he is also the protagonist/antagonist of the film. In total, we have three core points to focus on throughout the movie. The Gambling addiction is one as well as Howard's mortality connected to the choices made by said addiction. Our final point comes in the form of a gem. An Uncut Gem.
We start the movie in a Welo mine in Africa where two Ethiopian Jewish Minors obtain a rare Black Opal. This mission is something Howard had in the works for 17 months to obtain this jewel. With this, we have our rationale on why we start the movie in 2010. We could safely assume that this gem is one of the primary reasons for Howard's financial troubles with everyone in the Diamond District. This gem is a symbol of prosperity and freedom for our main character which leads to his inevitable downfall. It is why he fights so much for the Opal to bring him a massive payout. Flash forward to the present (2012) and we have Howard dealing with an array of individuals before the Opal is formally introduced.
Demany is Howard's connect who brings him new clients to sell jewelry too. Their deal is simple, Demany brings clients and Howard stores Demany's fake watches in the vault. Next, we see Arno's henchmen Phil and Nico. These guys come in and take some valuables of Howard to pay off some of the debt he owes to Arno. Howard enraged leaves a voicemail on Arno's phone while heading to his girlfriend Julia's apartment. When Howard returns to his office, he receives a package. While he receives the Opal, Demany has Kevin Garnett with him which brings a majority of our main players in one area together.
This scene is important for several reasons. One, we see how impulsive and juvenile Howard is which frequently ruins his plans for the big score. He gets the Opal and shows it to Kevin like a toddler proud of their macaroni drawing. Think about it. If Howard never showed Kevin the gem, he would have easily got the gem appraised at the auction. Might have gotten a good amount and might still be alive. We have to note as we do this review, Howard had several chances to come out of this with his life. His battle with addiction was a losing one. It deluded him into thinking he could come out on top every single time. The win brings validation from those around him to prove how great he is.
There is a short scene we need to discuss before the exchange between Kevin and Howard. Yussi is an employee in Howard's Jewelry shop who got assaulted by Arno's henchmen. He is furious that Howard isn't doing anything to stop these men from harassing the store. The entire time while Yussi is speaking Howard is focused on the stone. Within this scene, you see how self-centered Howard can be and why the people around him are so on edge with him. He is never present with them. Howard is looking for the next score and it shows.
We jump back to the scene where Kevin exchanges his championship ring to hold the Opal for a day. The fight over the gem in the early portion of the movie brings great strife to Howard because now he is truly freestyling the plan. He moves to constantly to setup a bigger play. For people who don't live with addiction, the pace of the movie is exhausting and has on the edge of our seat. We can't fathom what Howard is doing but to him this play makes sense. Howard immediately pawns KG's ring to get the funds to do a six-way parley on the playoff game KG is playing in that night. If Howard wins, he nets $600,000 from this bet. Guess what? He "won". While Howard wins the bet, the gem is in a precarious position. Demany doesn't bring the gem as promised to the appraisal for the auction and leaves Howard in Philadelphia as they were traveling to see KG about the stone. You can tell nobody in this movie so far has kept a promise (or even knows what that means).
Brief pause to discuss why Demany is moving the way he is with Howard. Flashback to earlier in the movie when Howard refused to bring out Demany's stash of watches to sell to KG. Their little squabble was still in the back of Demany's mind and brings aspects of Howard to the forefront. Howard takes from everyone and gives nothing. People along the way start to figure it out and mirror his actions. Everyone is terrible in this movie. Never forget that.
Howard is at his daughter's school play when he sees Arno and his goons sitting in the audience further behind him. For some reason, he impulsively decides to confront the henchmen and run away. Howard is a crafty gambler but a horrible on the fly planner. He is captured and this is when Howard learns of the bet he placed the day before being stopped by Arno. Even in a time of panic, Howard is lying his ass off and now gets humiliated like a little kid getting bullied on the playground. After the intense conversation, Howard is locked in the trunk of his car naked. Dinah has to get him out of the car and it is hard to look at this man with respect.
A main cause of Howard's issues is his inability to stay present in the lives of the people around him. He isn't present in his own family's lives. Missing recitals and not tucking his children to sleep. His wife is beyond neglected ready to pack up and leave him while taking the kids. Business partners are owed money and sick of his shit. Howard does not have any friends. If he does, they are on the way out. Howard is so self-centered he doesn't even notice all the disconnections in his life.
Howard is heading to the city to meet with Demany to get his Opal (sound familiar). They are meeting at The Weeknd concert in Chelsea and let's just say Howard goes 0 for 2 yet again. No gem from Demany yet again and his girlfriend is all booed up with The Weeknd in the bathroom. Howard is having another night of losses but yet again the man display poor people skills due to him not seeing the big picture.
KG brings the Opal back the next day and offers $175k for the gem. Howard tells KG to instead come to the auction on the coming Monday to bid for the gem outright since the organization already has a claim to the product already. Sounds straightforward right? There is a catch of course. Howard's Gem is appraised at price significantly less than his bold claim of $1 million. He needs up to raise the price up to get the return on his original investment. Howard goes back into his manipulation bag to get his father-in-law (Gooey) to help him with this plan. Help he does. Gooey wins the auction and gives the stone back to Howard to sell to KG.
Pause for a second. Look at all of the manipulation that Howard does to the auction organizers, KG, and his own family Gooey. He is playing this large scale chess match and losing to get the big score consistently. Not the smart score. The big one. KG gives him $165k for the stone and instead of giving the money to Arno to close his debt, the man makes another bet with money that isn't his own. The compulsive behavior is sickening. We can even say borderline psychotic even. As we approach the end, I know people are emotionally exhausted. Hell, you are wishing this movie was over with already. I want you to understand the long willed lesson this visual masterpiece displays to you. A person can be exceptional at one thing to the point of winning at a high rate and still lose. That is right.
Howard loses in the end and wins all at the same time. That last bet hits and hits big. I mean winning $1.2 million dollars. This makes up for the last bet he should have won and the Opal that was originally valued at $1 million. Yet, he dies in the end to someone who we can say is the physically embodiment of his conscience. Every single time Howard was going to do something bad with money, Phil was right there slapping him up. Phil being the person to put Howard out of his misery was poetic in a sense. A full circle moment. There is no way Howard wins and gets out with his life to live a normal life. That was never going to happen people. This is why I can understand why people don't enjoy the ending. You question why you even watched this movie wishing Howard's victory. In actuality, you were seeing a person with a gift abuse it and get the reckoning that was coming for so long.
A quick reminder that Uncut Gems is a tragedy. You cannot root for anyone in this movie. There are no good characters in this movie because everyone has their own agenda. We know that because Howard is the ego driven force showcasing why everyone is driven by their greed in this film and the dire consequences it brings. We start and end the movie in the same exact room for a reason. This was Howard's toxicity coming to a violent end because he didn't know to pick the play that works for people other than him. We see addiction and why it is stressful. A lesson that is hard to explain without visuals.
This movie was a favorite from 2019 for me. The layers to the journey captivated me and had me rewatch the movie so many times I am ashamed to admit it. We will have more reviews for movies and tv shows over the course of the year. We had to get this article finished first. Thank you for your patience and let's continue on this journey together.