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CUTTER’S WAY

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 15, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Cutter’s Way’ gets a Blu-ray upgrade this week, courtesy of Screen Archives Entertainment/Twilight Time, and it’s worth watching. Here’s my Jan. 5, 1983, Deseret News review.

“Cutter’s Way” is a film that’s gone through several transitions, but wide distribution wasn’t one of them.

First titled “Cutter and Bone” (the title of the novel on which it is based), “Cutter’s Way” is one of those films the studios had no confidence in, so it was shelved, re-edited and finally landed under its current title in the UA Classics library, the last resort for oddball films that no one knows quite how to handle.

Last year it was part of the United States Film and Video Festival in Park City (and as a result wound up on Paul Swenson’s 10 best list in Utah Holiday Magazine), Trolley Theaters was going to show it later in the year but decided against it, a couple of months ago it popped up on cable television and now it finally gets a formal Salt Lake premiere at — where else? — the Blue Mouse.

With a history like that, it’s especially surprising to find that “Cutter’s Way” has more of a commercial look to it than most films that go through this kind of trouble, and it should appeal to mainstream audiences as well as cult film followers.

There’s a murder mystery, but it’s really just a backdrop for the characters — and boy are they characters.

    

Jeff Bridges, left, Lisa Eichhorn, John Heard, 'Cutter's Way'

Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) fancies himself the stud of the century but he’s really in love with Maureen (Lisa Eichhorn), a neurotic, depressed woman who is living with the choices she has made. Maureen, however, is married to Bone’s best friend, Alex Cutter (John Heard), a crippled Vietnam War veteran whose physical scars are only exceeded by his emotional scars.

They are an odd threesome, soon joined by a fourth, Valerie (Ann Dusenberry), as the movie takes on a strange detective-melodramatic overtone. Valerie’s sister has been brutally murdered and Bone is a suspect. Cutter comes up with evidence pointing to a prominent millionaire as the killer, and contrives a bizarre scheme to extract a confession.

That oversimplifies a more complicated storyline, but to give much more away would undercut the emotional strength that makes “Cutter’s Way” worthwhile. Indeed, this is a very emotional film, creeping into the audience’s subconscious rather than grabbing its sympathy.

Czech director Ivan Passer has gone for a low-key look, with the screenplay’s gallows humor cropping up at unexpected moments. This is a dark, moody film, loaded with atmosphere and very much unlike another movie about physically and emotionally scarred misfits, “Inside Moves.” Passer keeps us occupied by keeping us off guard, and despite the lack of action, “Cutter’s Way” never feels like a dialogue picture; the camera provides the action more than the actors.

  

And the acting is uniformly fine, with Bridges once again underplaying his role; he is the focus but often doesn’t seem to be the focus. Eichhorn is excellent; complex and unhappy, yet fixed in her direction. And Heard, in the most flamboyant role of the piece, never loses control; he’s extremely convincing as the disturbed title character.

Rated R for an awful lot of profanity, some sex and nudity, and some restrained violence, “Cutter’s Way” is a fascinating portrait of the human condition in trouble, and showcases several fine performances — more than enough to recommend it.