Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cutter's Way (Ivan Passer, 1981)

Viewed today, Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way seems even more clearly an expression of America’s divisions and fractures: sleek images of privilege clash with outbursts of paranoia, dark fantasy and instability – the film’s evasive mastery lies in the frequent difficulty of determining the dividing lines. Jeff Bridges’ Richard Bone witnesses the late-night dumping of a murdered woman, and thinks the murderer may be a wealthy oil mogul; his friend Alex Cutter hatches a plan to tease out a confession by threatening blackmail; Cutter’s wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) keeps much of her thoughts and her sadness to herself behind a fixed but fragile smile. John Heard’s Cutter is a singular creation – an eye, arm and leg lost in Vietnam, he seems initially like a wildly provocative, undisciplined drunk, but it becomes clear that there’s some methodical artifice to this madness, even if the only rational outcome of it is self-obliteration. The film hints at past entanglements, crimes and lost possibilities, suggesting that the outrage of Vietnam was only the most visible manifestation of the mess at home. And the outstanding ending delivers an emblematic charging toward justice on a white horse, foretold early in the film, but accompanied by pervasive confusion of a precisely plotted kind only achievable through immaculate creative clarity. When the mogul is finally directly confronted, there’s a direct line from his chilling response - “What if I did?” - to (say) assertions about one’s ability to stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and kill someone without losing voters; the stage is larger, but the challenge to stability and morality (or what's still intact of both) is the same. The main difference, beyond even what the film foresaw, is that our own rampaging mogul would hijack so much of Cutter’s self-justifying paranoia, without any of its moral purpose.

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