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Review: Cut Bank (2015)

Cut Bank (2015)

Directed by: Matt Shakman

Premise: Set in a small Montana town, a young couple (Teresa Palmer and Liam Hemsworth) witness the murder of a postal worker but not everything is what it seems.

What Works: Cut Bank was directed by Matt Shakman, who has primarily worked for television, helming episodes of House M.D., The Good Wife, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, among others. When television directors make the leap to feature films their work tends to look as though it was intended for the small screen but Cut Bank is sufficiently cinematic. This movie has a few striking visuals, especially the way in which the rural landscape is photographed. The most satisfying aspect of Cut Bank is the way it begins as a murder mystery and then morphs into something else. This is a movie with a lot of different parts to it and some of the aspects of the story shouldn’t fit together but the filmmakers generally manage to assimilate them into a single coherent story. The film begins with a young couple in the wrong place at the wrong time but it soon becomes clear that things aren’t quite what they appear to be and a criminal scheme that should have been perfect is interrupted by unexpected interference. The crooked plotting of Cut Banks is complemented by some complex characters. As with the plot, the characters are introduced as one thing but they turn out to be another and a lot of the people of this movie make morally or ethically bad choices but the filmmakers empathize with them and make the characters more than simply good or bad. The supporting cast of Cut Banks adds a lot of flavor to the film. Bruce Dern plays the mail carrier who comes to a violent end and in this film Dern does the kind of off kilter malcontent role that he does well. In a small role, Oliver Platt plays a postal executive from D.C. who has come to verify the murder of a federal worker and Platt adds a lot of humor to his scenes. The standout performance comes from Michael Stuhlbarg as a local shut-in trying to find out what happened to a parcel that the deceased mail carrier was supposed to deliver. These supporting characters contribute a lot of texture to the film and the rich performances enhance the way these side characters complicate the story.

What Doesn’t: Cut Bank struggles to create an authentic tone. A growing number of independent pictures have abandoned urban locales in favor of rural America as seen in films like Mud, Hellion, Joe, and Nebraska. But the success of these films is often rooted in how non-Hollywood they are. Even movies like Mud and Joe, which featured major Hollywood actors, nevertheless had a feel that was grittier than big budget studio pictures. The filmmakers of Cut Bank struggle to create that kind of tone in their movie. Cut Bank features several recognizable Hollywood actors including Liam Hemsworth, Billy Bob Thornton, and John Malkovich. These actors tend to stick out; they don’t blend into the rural setting of the film and so the movie sometimes rings false. This is compounded by the fact that a few of the actors have trouble inhabiting their characters at the beginning of the film, especially Hemsworth. This is partly the fault the script’s awkward dialogue but when the actors try to force the bucolic qualities of the characters they come across as caricatures. This subsides in the second half of the story as the filmmakers and the actors abandon their attempts to force the location and focus on the plot instead. The very end of Cut Bank is flawed in that it’s a little too neat. The movie has a lot of parallels with Fargo and while the Coen Brother’s 1996 film has its own problems, one thing it did well was leading the plot to a conclusion that was in synch with the tone of the story. Cut Bank forces a happier ending on its conclusion than this story or its characters deserve.

Bottom Line: Cut Bank is satisfying as a thriller. The movie is never more than average but it has enough in it that is weird or unexpected to be sufficiently entertaining.

Episode: #537 (April 12, 2015)