Cut Bank

2015-07-16 15:04

What it's about:

In the small, sleepy town of Cut Bank, Minnesota, a young couple accidentally film the murder of a postal worker – but this is only the beginning of their troubles.

What we thought:

Cut Bank is the debut feature film for veteran TV director Matt Shakman and though it's hardly a roaring success, you do have to admire the chutzpah of a filmmaker modelling his first big screen outing on the work of the Coen Brothers. More specifically, on earlier Coen works like Blood Simple and arguably their most beloved work, Fargo (I've always been more of a Big Lebowski man myself though) – though with some helpings of No Country for Old Men thrown in for good measure. But then, considering how many indie filmmakers start off their careers with their own riffs on Woody Allen's immortal classic, Annie Hall, there probably is something to be said for stealing from the best.     

Though, to be fair, it might be more accurate to say that it's the film's screenwriter, Robert Patino, who is most responsible for the Coen-like feel of the film. His most notable work to date is as a staff writer and story editor on the notoriously mad TV show, Sons of Anarchy, but it's his script that actually stands out most. Indeed, the biggest problem with the film actually is that Shakman's unquestionably competent but conservative direction doesn't ever really do justice to the quirkiness and black humour of Patino's script. The dialogue in particular has a very distinct cadence to it that, sure enough, borrows heavily from the brothers Coen but without their distinct directorial flare, it mostly comes out a little flat – occasionally even out of place.

And this is certainly not the actors' fault. How could it be when most of the film's veteran actors are all Coen stalwarts and are presumably used to this sort of thing. Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn't There), John Malkovich (Burn After Reading) and an unrecognisable Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) are all brilliant here, with Malkovich being particularly wonderful as he plays strongly against type as a sensitive, almost haunted small town sheriff struggling to come to terms with the sudden onslaught of violence to his quiet town. Similarly, Bruce Dern follows up his exceptional work in Nebraska with another killer performance as the film's funniest and most pathetic character. Sadly, the film's two young stars, Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer are totally overshadowed by their supporting cast and though I've yet to be won over by “the other Hemsworth”, what I've seen of Palmer in other films makes it clear that it's all more the pity that she's so under-utilised here.

Not that I want to give the impression that this is just an actor's showcase and a Coens tribute and little more. The fact is that it's all but impossible to actually talk about the film without diving head first into massive spoiler territory. At a sleek 93-minutes, the film, to Shankman's great credit, doesn't take long to get going and barely slows down once it does, throwing (often fairly obvious) plot twists and solid character beats our way with the same relish that a Die Hard film throws bullets and quippy catch-phrases.

It may be derivative and it may sometime fail hopelessly to strike that all important balance between black comedy and just plain nastiness, but it's hard not to admire the gusto with which Cut Bank goes about its business, both as a twisty crime thriller and as yet another - but still very welcome - exploration of small-town America and the uneasy relationship such places have with what we think of as “big city life”.

It's far from perfect, in other words, but as a debut feature film it delivers more than enough on its own terms to promise big things in the future for both its writer and its director.

Jay Hull 2015/07/18 11:37
I can't agree with these so called reviews, they are so inaccurate most of the time, I mean they said Godzilla was amazingly spectacular, and I found it to be one of the worst movies I've ever seen. But look, other than Hunger Games, Liam Hemsworth hasn't really been part anything spectacular, he is, in my opinion a B rate actor, so expect him to feature in B rated movies. But I do keep an open mind, even some B rated movies are really good. So yea sometimes you just need to ignore the reviews and just take a chance, you never know what you might see.
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