Cut Bank

cutbank

Director: Matt Shakman

Writer: Roberto Patino

Cast: Liam Hemsworth as Dwayne McLaren, Teresa Palmer as Cassandra Steeley, Billy Bob Thornton as Stan Steeley, John Malkovich as Sheriff Vogel, Bruce Dern as Georgie Wits, Michael Stuhlbarg as Derby Milton, Oliver Platt as Joe Barrett, David Burke as Match.


Running time:
1 hour 33 minutes

Rated R for violence and language

IMDB Page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1661820/

Plot: The murder of the local mailman brings dark secrets and simmering violence to the surface of tiny Cut Bank, Montana.


Cut Bank is a film of stark landscapes, quirky characters, and a desperate desire to be the next Fargo. Shakman has directed episodes of the Fargo TV series (and employs stars Thornton and Platt here). He and Patino get close a couple of times, successfully mixing casual violence and humor in Coen-esque fashion. They just don’t succeed often enough.

The main reason for this is the script’s lack of sympathetic characters. A cast packed so fully with great, offbeat actors should have at least one Marge Gunderson in the mix. The leads, restless young adults Dwayne and Cassandra, are pretty and stupid. Doomed mailman Georgie is misanthropic and stupid. Match, a hulking small-time criminal, is mute and stupid (you wouldn’t want to tell him that, though). The few intelligent people are grouchy, probably because of what surrounds them. Only Sheriff Vogel comes off well, and he can’t even talk about his town’s first murder without wanting to throw up.

That leaves Derby, a reclusive eccentric (everyone thought he was dead), whose relentless desire to get his mail sparks a bloodbath after Georgie is shot. Stuhlbarg (a Coen alum from A Serious Man) is appropriately creepy, although Derby’s backstory and motivations are as muddled as everyone else’s.

Hence the other big problem, Patino’s trying-too-hard screenplay. Everyone in the town is defined by some odd trait or unrealistic goal, with very little context for their actions. The dialogue has a similar problem, so self-consciously stylized that it sounds like it was written by a precocious college freshman trying to be clever. The Coens (along with Alexander Payne) are often falsely accused of showing contempt toward their small-town yokels, but Patino offers the real thing, without the warmth or complexity to offset its effects.

When Cut Bank works, it’s in small doses, in moments when people speak and behave like humans. Strange, off-the-wall humans, sure, but Shakman and Patino at least know how it’s done. Next time, maybe they can do it better. 4/10/15

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