When two brothers organize the robbery of their parents' jewelry store the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father and one brother's wife hurtling towards a shattering climax.
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
A former drug lord returns from prison determined to wipe out all his competition and distribute the profits of his operations to New York's poor and lower classes in this stylish and ultra violent modern twist on Robin Hood.
John Heard came back from the war minus an eye, a leg and an arm. He drinks a lot and abuses his wife, who also drinks a lot. Jeff Bridges is a friend who witnesses a murder. From this point John is "after" the killer, along side the diseased sister, while Jeff doesn't really want to get involved in it. Written by
Cutter's Way is one of the best American films ever made. It has real character, depth and passion, and some of the best performances I've ever seen. Despite its flaws, which are more obvious once you've read the breathtaking novel on which this is based (written by Newton Thornburg, it is a true masterwork), I love this film, I love the characters, I love the dialogue, I love the story.
This film, like many others that emerged as secret cult favourites, was a hideous failure when released. Just like the flashier but equally disillusioned Blow Out (which was also released at the start of the 1980s), Cutter's Way seemed to have been made in the wrong time. Had either of these films been released in the 1970's, when angry thrillers like Chinatown, All the Presidents Men and The Parallax View were in vogue, they might have been hits. Escapism and triumph was the name of the game for the following decade, and therefore, they vanished. Still, at least Blow Out had entertainment maestro Brian de Palma behind the wheel, as well as a sense of (admittedly bleak) closure, whereas Cutter's Way ends far more ambiguously and is directed by Ivan Passer with a free, loose feel. Add a trio of deeply flawed leading characters and it's not surprising this film tanked. The public's loss, the more discerning viewer's gain, I say.
The story concerns Richard Bone, a drifting, directionless beach bum and Alex Cutter, a crippled, bitter Vietnam vet who both latch onto the possibility that a recently murdered teenager may very well have been killed by J.J Cord, one of California's most respected and wealthy businessmen. They don't have an awful lot of evidence, just a few unsettling coincidences. Bone just wants to get on with his life and drift on, but Cutter refuses to let go; to him, Cord represents the ruling elite who sent him off to war while they stayed at home. To him, Cord is 'responsible'; not just for the death of the girl, but for everything that he sees wrong in America. Meanwhile, there's Mo, Cutter's alcoholic wife, who fruitlessly drinks away the days and nights hoping that her husband will see the light and sweep her off her feet once again. Cutter will not let go though; tracking down Cord has given his life a new sense of meaning, a purpose, and his beliefs consume him more and more. Mo doesn't want to get involved, but Bone eventually becomes a part of a scheme to blackmail and expose Cord as the killer. Tagging along as well is the victim's sister, Valerie, who wants Cord brought to justice.
Beautifully filmed by Jordan Cronenweth (who also helped to make Blade Runner the best looking film of all time in my opinion), the mood here is deceptively pretty, much like in Chinatown, where the glamorous scenery and beautiful people hid a rotten, horrifying centre. Jack Nitzsche provides a strange, beautiful score, one of his best ever. The script crackles with brilliant, dark cynicism and genuine tragedy; this is a haunting, romantic story, eventually deeply saddening, full of moments of anger, of tenderness, of hopelessness and of helplessness.
John Heard is all out there on his own as Cutter; what a performance! A true force of nature, a remarkable character full of twisted pain, regret and determination, Heard truly transforms himself to become Cutter and as a result delivers one of the greatest performances in cinema history. It's a shame he's never come remotely close to matching this role, but there aren't many actors who've scaled the heights he does in this one star turn. Jeff Bridges, one of the most brilliant actors of his time, effortlessly delivers the goods as Bone; apathetic, aimless and casually dragging himself about, his is a performance that is less immediately arresting as Heard's but just as powerful. His last scenes are some of his best ever. Lisa Eichhorn seems to have suffered an even more unremarkable career fate than Heard, but she's absolutely stunning as Mo; as the film progresses, her tragic plight becomes all the more apparent, as does her anger at these two men in her life. Her character and Bone dominate a tender, beautiful sequence that is one of the film's most delicate highlights. I'd have to say these three actors represent one of the best cast line-ups in any film, ever. They are the heart and living soul of the film, and elevate it to magnetic, stunning heights. There are some fine supporting performances too, though Ann Dusenberry as Valerie is rather rudely ejected from the story without explanation, which is a pity.
The film is bizarrely structured too; without much interest in clear exposition, you may not get everybody's exact relation to each other in the film very clearly the first time, but I like this touch. It's as if the writer and director have chosen to ignore meticulous exposition and just throw us in the situation. Sometimes this doesn't work in films, but it really does here. As a thriller it's not exactly suspenseful, but then this isn't really a thriller as such. It's very much a character piece, as well as a study of disillusionment with one's own leaders, one's friend, lover and place on Earth. The film does use the story of a thriller to explore these themes, and the story is fascinating and wholly gripping. The final act deviates from that of Thornburg's book, and is not as horrifying (not much else is, to be honest!), but it does end on a note of true mystery, with a brave, powerful final moment that'll make you want to watch the film again.
Cutter's Way is a terrific film, one that's definitely in my top ten, and despite its minor flaws, has so, so much good about it that I don't hesitate to give it top marks.
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