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An all-black inner city school has to become an integrated school. Few dozen white kids are transfered there, but the black students are aggressively opposed to this. The school then approaches a tough black teacher for help.
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' Ups the Bar on Mysteries- Harrowing, Moving
It is one of the more bitter ironies in the "business" of movies that a motion picture this good can remain such a secret; all but buried under the gloss and glitz of the 80's and 90's hyper-insensitive cinema. Since it was released in the beginning of the Reagan era, circa 1981, the only film to equal it in its mystery genre is "The Usual Suspects", but even that film, with all of its intricacies of plot; fiendishly delightful manipulations; twists; turns; and eccentricities of character, remains a "conventional" who-done-it, when compared to the import, and mystery, of "Cutter's Way".
Told within the context of dazed and confused post Vietnam era America, it features a breathtaking performance from the brilliant, and never since better, John Heard as Alex Cutter. A hard drinking Veteran who was crippled by a land mine during the war while walking point, (`Only place to be!'), Alex is the biting conscience of an era trying to numb itself with booze and sex to it's recent past. While his cynical ravings about America and Americans appear to be the drunken ravings of a lunatic when he pronounces them, his alcoholic fugue really just dulls the jagged edge of the brutal truths he speaks enough so they fall just short of a lethal weapon. `Playing' at being a cripple, Alex remains insulated from the threat of getting his head pounded in, and he takes full advantage of his disability, managing to at least appear to hold the higher moral ground during even his more assaultive tirades. He remains clear, truthful, and precise while denouncing the sinister intrigues he observes swirling about him in the mundane world he inhabits, (`The routine grind drives me to drink. Tragedy I take straight'), so when his best friend Richard Bone, played by Jeff Bridges, inadvertently stumbles onto a real life crime of the most lurid kind, one that `may' link the most powerful elder in the community of Santa Barbara to the sex attack and murder of a teenaged girl, Alex takes to his trail like a dog to a bone. This is not the kind of Vietnam Vet it is fashionable to play anymore, nor is it considered politically correct to even acknowledge once existed as our primary mythological figure that had returned from the jungles of that strange war. But, this film was released at the beginning of the Regan era folks, before the more cynical memories of the Vietnam era were more or less painted over by that `new feeling in the land' that was gaining momentum back then. But, there is still Alex Cutter, a biting testament to the time, in one of the best performances from an actor you will ever committed to film. Mr. Heard displays the astonishing breadth of character very much evident in the range of work offered by the Jack Nicholson, or the great Gary Oldman, (who has played everything from Dracula to Lee Harvey Oswald), and he fuels Alex's emotional life with the range of King Lear. This guy rocks! He simply chews through the scenery, yet, while going way over the top in his focused and insightful ravings, he always manages to remain within the realm of believability. And, while Jeff Bridges gives us still another chance to see first hand why he is considered one of the great American actors of his generation, it is the beautiful actress Lisa Eichhorn as the doomed, suffering wife of Alex, who is a true revelation here. Her unforgettable portrait of Mo, (Maureen), alcoholic, lonesome, and lost, gives us the quintessential bruised angel for the era. A tragic figure, Mo is the `hippie chick' that met a one-night stand at a sixties party, and got her skirt caught in the door when she tried to get out. She is loyal to Alex, because she truly loves him, but we always know that somewhere down the line she took a wrong turn, and this is not the street she should be living on. Ms. Eichhorns heartbreaking performance has haunted me since 1981 when I first saw this film at the Cannery Cinema in San Francisco, and I have been in love with Mo since that day. If there is anything about the web that I can say `I love', it's that I can encourage other folks out there to finally give this film and this wonderful actress the attention she and it so richly deserve. I still mist over slightly when I think of Mo quietly weeping as Jeff Bridges holds her in his arms and whispers tender secrets, and soft encouragements to her during their love scene. It's one of the most heartrending, moving, and beautiful moments I've ever seen on film. Ms. Eichhorn shows us vividly how much it "means" for Mo to be held and to be loved, and how desperate her need for kindness is. I ache for that character and her predicament even today when I think about her. This is when acting is a true art form. I haven't seen this film in a long, long time, but this moment is as clear to me now as if I had seen it yesterday. Ms. Eichhorn paints such a moving and humane portrait of Mo's lost yet loving soul in the precious moments when she is on the screen, that it is very clear she would have become a major international film star, as she was once expected to be, had only things happened a little differently for her. And, while it's true that I gave up taking the Oscar race real seriously a long time ago, having decided when John Wayne beat Dustin Hoffman for Best Actor that there was no justice in it, I watch them just to savor the moments when they do get it right, and it is still amazing to me that none of the principles involved in the creation of this great film, neither it's writer; director; composer; nor any of it's magnificent stars, were recognized in any way by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work. Not one nomination went to `Cutter's Way' for anything. This film disappeared from theaters almost as soon as it arrived. Oh, to further peak your interest, I should tell you that there is a dark secret of epic proportions brewing beneath the surface of this story, one that is never openly discussed nor revealed, not even at the end of the film. Yet, we're always strangely aware of something within the narrative teasing us along, well hidden within the action; illuminated only in the subtext of dialogue; and story; keeping us deceptively riveted on the murder mystery, while imperceptively tugging on the coattails of our subconscious, drawing us further down a rabbit hole to peek behind the mask of a killer in that marvelous way only a master director, (Ivan Passer), can. Oh, you have a good old-fashioned who-done-it here too folks, and I can pretty well promise you fans of that genre that they won't be disappointed even if that's all your looking for. It's just that, well, like `Blow Up' and more recently `Eyes Wide Shut', "Cutter's Way" is, at its core so much more than just a `murder mystery'. Critics naive enough to have dismissed this "storytelling" as too "simple" have missed the secret of this film by a wide five miles, as well as cheated themselves out of the sheer fun of watching it and trying to figure it out. Hey Guys, you seriously need to give this one another chance. `Cutters Way' is a classic, one of a kind murder mystery. (Indeed, it was recently released on DVD as part of the MGM `Classics Series'.) I doubt anyone who sees it will ever forget it. It's darker secret will more than likely elude you as it has so many others on the first viewing, but not to worry. Like all the great films that remind us why we go to movies in the first place, you'll be drawn to watching `Cutters Way' again. Be forewarned though, this film keeps a secret even after the shattering, final blast echoes into the darkness of its last frame; one that will resonate with you for many years to come.
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