Adam Sandler’s latest film, “Uncut Gems,” is not so much a story about sports betting as it is about an unpleasant, self-centered, perpetual dreamer chasing his next big score. Set in New York’s Diamond District, the film is frenetic, raucous, loud, and nearly impossible to look away from.
Sandler, known for comedy dating back to the days he did stand-up and later was on staff at “Saturday Night Live,” dominates the film — in a good way. It’s not the 53-year-old actor’s first foray into drama, but it is his best, and there’s already talk that he could get his first Oscar nomination. He’s come close only one other time, with “Punch-Drunk Love.” This time around, he somehow makes you root for a truly repugnant character.
“Uncut Gems” follows Sandler’s Howard Ratner, a high-energy, loathsome, Jewish jewelry dealer trying to score big and get a couple of tough guys off his back. Many of the characters aren’t quite developed enough and there is some question as to how each fits into Ratner’s life, but none of that seems to matter while watching Sandler ricochet across the screen, simultaneously dodging the wise guys, trying to make the next big score, managing his family and mistress, and run his business. Sandler never breaks character and is wholly believable as a desperate, clearly unhappy, and unlikable businessman.
Parlays don’t make sense
The film opens in an Ethiopian gem mine with what Ratner thinks will be his big play — black opals. The opal-filled rock that he purchases is as much at the center of the film as Ratner’s sports betting addiction. The rock is also of interest to basketball player Kevin Garnett, who plays himself, but like every other bet Ratner makes in the film, it is not what it appears to be. The rock, which both Ratner and Garnett ultimately believe will be their salvation, is at the heart of the film. Following the opening scenes at the mine, there is a weird, psychedelic sequence that is revisited at the end of the film, but essentially adds nothing to the story.
'Uncut Gems' is a cinematic panic attack. Why does such a frenetic film feature a meditative, almost cosmic score? https://t.co/WKm3jX2pTL
— NPR Music (@nprmusic) December 30, 2019
Other than that, filmgoers are immediately thrust into Ratner’s world, and by the end of the film, likely exhausted and desperate to get out. That said, Sandler is riveting and from the first time he appears on screen, theatergoers are in the room with him, rather than watching his struggles. Though he’s a caring dad, which makes you feel at least a little bit of sympathy for Ratner, he’s also got an estranged wife and an inability to control his gambling addiction, which has saddled him with great debt and serious stress. His pain and frustration are on full display, and his character is incredibly authentic from the rimless glasses to the chunky jewelry to his haggard and harried face.
Besides the opal rock, Ratner goes after two big payouts on the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals. But the two key sports betting moments in the film, may be troubling for some.
The first, a six-leg parlay on Game 3 of the semifinals, was placed with ease with an illegal bookie, and the second, a three-leg parlay, was placed at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut — a state that does not yet have legal sports betting. Though the film is based in 2012 rather than 2018 or later, it could have gained a modicum more credibility had the second bet at least been placed at a New Jersey sportsbook, where sports betting has been legal since June 2018, or, more authentic via the illegal bookie, offshore or in Las Vegas, which were the only available ways to bet on sports in the U.S. in 2012.
In addition, both parlays start with a bet on the opening tip, which even to a novice sports bettor would seem ludicrous. After all, who but the most delusional of sports bettors places a massive bet that hinges on a single play that’s subject to so much volatility?
Here’s a look at the two bets:
Parlay No. 1 (Ratner also places a “lightning bet” on this one)
- Celtics win the opening tip
- Celtics -1
- Celtics leading at halftime
- Garnett surpasses his projected point total
- Garnett surpasses his projected rebound total
- Garnett surpasses his projected blocked-shots total
Parlay No. 2
- Celtics win the opening tip
- Garnett surpasses his projected combined points and rebounds total
- Celtics win
The games help keep the film moving, and the selection of a playoff series involving the Boston Celtics could be perceived as a nod to Sandler’s New England roots. Turns out, it’s anything but — according to CelticsWire.com, Garnett and the Celtics were among the last choices for directors Bennie and Josh Safdie as well as Sandler, all of whom are Knicks fans. But after being turned down by former Knick Amar’e Stoudemire and former Laker Kobe Bryant, the producers settled on Garnett.
Though the Brooklyn-born Sandler mostly grew up in Manchester, N.H., he’s a New York sports fan through and through, with the Yankees and Knicks among his favorites. That “Uncut Gems” is focused on a basketball series was likely a draw for Sandler, who is not only an avid fan but has played hoops whenever possible, dating back to his high school days.
Of note in the film is Garnett’s stellar performance. For an athlete playing himself, Garnett blended beautifully into “Uncut Gems.” He was not stilted or uncomfortable, as many pro athletes are when they make cinematic turns.
On balance, “Uncut Gems” is a must-see for those in the sports betting arena and movie enthusiasts. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, though you might not care about any of the characters other than Ratner.