Saturday, April 4, 2009

DVD of the Week: "Cutter's Way" (Ivan Passer, 1981)

by Brandon Colvin

Okay, okay. So, there is this slacker dude who just sits around and gets high all day, who is like the protagonist in this movie, and he’s played by Jeff Bridges, and he like gets tangled up in this noirish web of intrigue involving a wealthy guy. And the slacker dude has this eccentric best friend who is like a bit of a paranoid conspiracy freak who gets really into this whole mess – a Vietnam vet who is totally obsessed with the fact that he was in the war and has a bit of a martyr complex about it. And, like, they get involved in all sorts of shady, criminal mischief as their already strained friendship is tested and pushed to the limit while they attempt to navigate a convoluted psychological maze of mystery and confusion. Oh, and it takes place in L.A.

No, contrary to what the above informal plot summary may suggests, the film in question is not The Big Lebowski (1998). Rather, it is a much darker tale of amateur detectives coming to grips with post-Vietnam nihilism, the reprehensibility of corporatism, and the impossible conundrums of epistemology – Czech director Ivan Passer’s under-seen and masterful Cutter’s Way (1981). Starring Bridges as small-time gigolo and big-time underachiever, Richard Bone, and featuring John Heard giving the performance of a lifetime as the troubled Alex Cutter, Cutter’s Way undoubtedly influenced the now-classic Coen Brothers comedy, yet it delves into similar subject matter with such unsparing cynicism that it feels downright disturbing in comparison. Exploring suicide, alcoholism, mental illness, murder, corruption, emotional disconnection, and the relativity of truth, Passer’s film is rife with jarringly powerful insights and pitch-black gallows humor, making it one of the bravest, most tonally risky films I have ever seen. Certainly worth a watch and emblematic of the bevy of unjustly neglected 1980s cinematic gems that are being reappraised in the age of Netflix, Cutter’s Way is a film whose legacy can only grow in stature.


Tony Dayoub said...

This is one fucking badass film, and one of my favorites. It has a killer ending, and one of the most haunting opening credit sequences with Jack Nitzsche's dark, memorable theme - a combo of distant-sounding mariachi music with zither - playing over slo-mo shots of a parade in Santa Barbara.

Whatever happened to Lisa Eichhorn? In fact, whatever happened to John Heard who so intensely presided over this film and Schrader's Cat People before being relegated to the supporting character actor pile?

Brandon Colvin said...

"Fucking badass" would definitely be the proper adjectival phrase.

I'm kind of shocked that neither Eichhorn nor Heard went on to bigger and better things. Heard shows the kind of chops that could've made him a legend in the right circumstances.

Tony Dayoub said...

I've heard that Heard is very difficult in a perfectionist sort of way, or at least used to be. I used to hear the same sorts of things about him as I did about William L. Petersen who didn't really take off after the Manhunter and To Live and Die in L.A. double-whammy but must have mellowed out by the time he got to CSI.

Eichhorn is a mystery to me. All I ever saw her in outside of this movie is Miami Vice

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Great stuff Brandon. I have never seen this and will absolutely give it a look.

Chuck W said...

I think this write-up might have launched a thousand Netflix queues. Well, it did for me.

Good stuff, Brandon. I might make this a double feature with The Big Lebowski.

Brandon Colvin said...

Let's hope I launched at least 5 Netflix queues!

And, yes, a double-bill with LEBOWSKI would be absolutely awesome.

Roger L. said...

I agree, Brandon, a powerful film that, depending upon your mood, comes across as a thriller, a buddy film, a romance (!), and an existential art film.

Passer nailed this one, capturing the post-Vietnam malaise as in the tone of the original novel, while completely changing the ending (I like both - they each serve their respective formats).

Heard indeed would have won an Oscar for this performance (but ends up in Home Alone) and here Bridges absolutely nails his laid-back /moral slacker persona.


Xavier_Ninnis said...

I saw this movie the weekend it arrived in my city. To an extent very few other films have, it has remained vivid in my memory. I couldn't be more pleased that this film is getting a new chance to be seen and appreciated.
I strongly both those who are too young to have caught it the first time, and those who simply missed it because it received virtually no promotion*, to put this at the top of your "must see" lists.

*Thanks to some effete jackass having decided that it wasn't simpleminded enough to appeal to the plebes.