Cutter's Way

Cutter's Way


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

What would you do if you witnessed a murder? "Call the police," you might say. But what if you weren't quite sure what you'd seen? The fact is that we all see things from time to time that might, on reflection, be suspicious, but very few of these things get reported unless somebody else urges action. Most people prefer to drift through life without taking on extra responsibilities. It's human nature. It's second nature to Bone (Jeff Bridges), a slacker who does little more than eat, sleep, sleep around, and perform whatever dead end jobs are necessary to obtain the basics required for survival.

Bone's friend Cutter (John Heard) is a very different kind of man. Perhaps he was born different. Perhaps it was the Vietnam war that did it - the loss of his eye and his leg, the things he came to understand about how humans are capable to treating one another. While Bone drifts easily through life, Cutter rages against it. But he's a rebel without a cause. There are no obvious targets for his frustration. He drinks too much and hits his wife (who also drinks too much). He picks fights in bars, but no-one wants to engage.

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When Bone witnesses a murder, Cutter sees it as an opportunity. He meets the sister of the victim. They develop an increasingly elaborate plan involving extortion and an attempted frame. Bone is dragged along for the ride, urged to be the active party. He's uneasy. Beneath the surface, everybody's motivations are more complex than they first appear. Cutter talks about punishing an evil man, and hints at a desire for class war, but at times he seems more interested in simply pushing Bone as far as he can. This doesn't seem to be as much about getting Bone to act on his behalf as about getting Bone to act on his own behalf, to make decisions, to assume agency. Still, there's a suggestion that, in the process, Cutter is too easily giving up on his own agency, and perhaps on his own sanity.

Looking much more like a product of the Seventies than the Eighties, Cutter's Way is shot in a crisp yet slightly over-saturated way; in combination with the dancers at the start, Cutter's flamboyant clothing and a horse ride at the end, this gives it the appearance of a carnival. We make several visits to fairgrounds, whilst pavilions and flags are scattered throughout. Everybody seems to be dressed up in a parody of real life. Real life is the young woman dumped in the dead of night, and whatever Cutter saw during the war.

Unfortunately, for all these strong ideas and well developed themes, Cutter's Way never quite succeeds in engaging with the viewer. Cutter is himself so parodic, so cartoonish, that we rarely glimpse his essential humanity, whilst the other characters are too withdrawn to make connection easy. Flashes of brilliance and a strong final sequence can't quite make up for a sagging middle section and the dialogue isn't strong enough to sustain the ambitions of the script. Still, it's an unusual film that will be of great interest to fans of the thrillers of that period.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2011
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A drifter who witnesses a murder tries to forget about it, but his injured war veteran friend sees it as an opportunity to fight back against the system.
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Director: Ivan Passer

Writer: Jeffrey Alan Fiskin, based on the book by Newton Thornburg

Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, Ann Dusenberry, Stephen Elliott

Year: 1981

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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