Cut Bank is an original story made up of equal parts Fargo, A Simple Plan and Psycho. Long time television director Matt Shakman (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) takes his first jab at feature film directing with a small-town murder mystery titled Cut Bank, set in the poetically named real-life town of Cut Bank, Montana. The town boasts a large display at it’s border declaring it as the coldest place in the lower 48, however the film takes place during a not-unusual summer heat wave. That my friends, is real honest to goodness nature-made climate change. I imagine one of the reasons why the filmmakers chose to film in the summer is to remain as far removed from the look and feel of the classic Cohen Brothers’ film Fargo, which this almost certainly is inspired by.
While the film starts off as a murder mystery of whodunnits, after about 15 min, we quickly know who did done it, and more importantly why. The why in this case is about what it usually always is, money. And the who seems to be more about, who isn’t involved. So then why even bother watching? Well, this is one of those rare stories in film nowadays, where the audience is allowed to know everything and is left to simply watch and relish as these characters play catch-up. (Gone Girl was another recent example of this, although for me, the ending ruined the entire experience.) With a terrific veteran cast, as an audience member, all I want to do is watch these actors do their thing.
The indispensable John Malkovich is terrific as Cut Bank’s weak stomached sheriff who is now involved in solving his town’s first murder case. Bruce Dern, fresh of a crowning achievement of a performance in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, plays to his strengths as a grimy and careless pervy old man. Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games films) certainly looks the part of the small town hunk who is desperately seeking to escape small town life and move to the big city with his equally charming and good looking girlfriend, the only problem is, Australian born Hemsworth lacks the acting chops to convince that he’s the prototypical small town American boy. While his accent is American, his cadence is all off, and he’s just not believable. Fellow Australian, Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies) does a better job portraying essentially the same character, however she’s seems like she actually has big plans once she escapes Cut Bank. Thus solidifying the state of mind young females and males in our society live in today.
Rounding out the cast is Billy Bob Thornton and Oliver Platt. Both are painfully underused in this film. And if it was the filmmaker’s intention to cast them simply as a draw to the film, well it worked. I’d watch Thornton and Platt play a silent game of chess for 6 hours if I could. With that said, they each deliver their signature acting red meat to their respective roles. Thornton is a hard ass and Platt is eccentric and pre-occupied. Then there is Derby Milton played by Michael Stuhlberg (A Serious Man). A misanthrope who plays the proverbial wrench in the works as he seeks his MacGuffin. I’ll leave it at that and let you watch it all play out.
I commend the filmmakers for taking a story, that if left in the hands of a BBC producer, could have been used as the basis for a long-winded, drawn out 12-episode drama and telling it in 90 minutes. It’s not the best film of the year by any means, but it absolutely nails what a simple story on film should be, and I applaud that for this first time feature director. You can see it selected theaters or stream it for rent on iTunes, Amazon or your other favorite streaming platform.
Normally, I’d have the trailer here. But I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer, I turned it off after about 20 seconds because I was already convinced to see it and didn’t want it to spoil anything. I’m glad I did. When I watched the trailer afterwards I was bummed to see it tip it’s hat way too much, which may be why I enjoyed the film more than most on Rotten Tomatoes. This is also a sign that it is harder to make an old fashioned film in this modern information age. Had this film made the rounds in cinemas in the 70s it would most certainly have launched a few careers of the people in front of and behind the camera. So if you’ve ever taken word-of-mouth seriously, try this one without the trailer.