Overview: After filming the shooting of a postman, a young man in a dead end town gets in over his head as he attempts to collect a reward.
Smart Shopping: It’s a frustrating thing to be duped by generic packaging. Sometimes, the off-brand mimicry of the name brand label is so precise that it takes a few bites to realize the lesser distinction. But the quality difference is certainly measurable, and more disappointing with each subsequent taste. That describes my experience with Cut Bank, the new film directed by Matt Shakman from the script of Roberto Patino. It’s difficult to curb one’s expectations when walking into a country-noir film that boasts the legendary acting talents of Billy Bob Thornton, John Malkovich, and Bruce Dern alongside flavor of the moment up-and-comers Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer. That’s possibly the best ensemble cast I’ve seen pulled together for any movie I’ve seen this year. So it comes as quite a shock that, on the whole, Cut Bank plays out like a diluted, derivative rip-off translation of better Coen ripoffs, a film that should feel right at home on the $1.00 DVD shelf at Big Lots next year.
How It Fails: Cut Bank puts so much effort into finding cheap narrative back alleys and characterization shortcuts that it starts to feel like it’s cheating. It’s a movie made from cut and paste segments of far better movies, a copy of a copy of a copy until the product is so faded that it’s not worth looking at. The entire first act exhibits overwrought dialogue that is void of actual substance and placed only to highlight the “good ol’ boy”-ness of these country bumpkin characters. Even Billy Bob Thornton, who in real life (as far as I can tell) speaks naturally in the dialect necessitated by films like these, is forced to try even harder to convey the strained regionalism.
Beyond that, Derby Milton, the most sinister villain presence in the film, has a stuttering speech impediment which is almost exclusively evident in his pronouncement of one word, “parcel,” which happens to be the word he says the most. One of the perpetrators of the initial heist is a towering, mute Native American with giant feet. None of these details serve any purpose outside of providing empty details of characterization. Malkovich plays a sheriff who vomits at the sight of violence and its aftermath. This also serves no purpose. The women in the film and chiefly young Palmer who as Cassandra, the hero’s girlfriend and the film’s only prominent female presence, seem interested only in a beauty pageant, even in the midst of unending hyper-violence and crime supposedly uncanny to the locale. Shakman, Patino, and cinematographer Ben Richardson, whose camera work is dull and uncurious, all seem incapable of adding value to their story through real, disciplined film technique. Everything is built as a quirky fix and so the whole vehicle falls apart moments after it takes off.
Grade: D –