Director: Ivan Passer
Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn
This review by Matthew Kitsell.
Jeff Bridges’ four-decade long body of work probably contains more great lost movies than any other actor of his generation. Let’s take the 1970s for starters: Bad Company, Fat City, The Last American Hero, Hearts of the West – all films that any actor would be proud to have on his CV, yet all remain largely unknown by audiences today.
Cutter’s Way also falls into this category and remains unjustly neglected. One possible reason for this is that it defies easy classification. Ostensibly a mystery-thriller with lashings of modern noir, the film is ultimately a bleak, pessimistic study in post-Vietnam ennui, paranoia and disillusionment – hardly the stuff that hit movies are made of. Cutter’s Way is nonetheless a rich and highly rewarding piece of work with a final scene that carries enormous emotional impact.
Jeff Bridges plays Richard Bone, an aging gigolo/boat salesman living in Santa Barbara, California. One rainy night he witnesses a dark figure stuffing the dead body of a young cheerleader into a trash can. A few days later, he identifies the killer as J.J. Cord, a powerful oil tycoon millionaire. The aimless Bone would prefer not to get involved, but his best friend, Alex Cutter, a crippled, righteously angry Vietnam veteran, demands retribution and sets out to hound the fat-cat to his doom, dragging his reluctant friend and alcoholic wife Mo along with him. For Cutter, his mission quickly becomes a crusade against all the faceless wielders of power who never have to pay for their sins.
At its heart, Cutter’s Way presents a fascinating love triangle between Bone, Cutter and Mo, oddballs on the fringes of respectable American society. On first inspection, they’re a pretty shabby bunch, but the characterizations are so finely drawn (and powerfully enacted by the leads) that we quickly become concerned for their safety and well-being. Though Bone has always loved Mo, Alex’s wife, he loves Alex equally; among other things, Cutter’s Way is a deeply affecting love story between two very different men. John Heard gives the performance of a lifetime as the piratical, viciously funny, alarmingly crude, frighteningly intelligent and extremely vulnerable Cutter, and it is a shame that he never had a more high-profile movie career after this. Bridges, as his uncommitted best buddy, is as good as you would expect him to be. Lisa Eichhorn as the boozy, tragic, wasted Mo, grieving for the happy marriage that in the end was cruelly denied her, is a match for both of them, and never looked more beautiful than she does here.
Czechoslovakian director Ivan Passer brings a keen eye for incidental detail to the proceedings, enhanced by his status as a visiting European. Jordan Cronenweth’s dusky cinematography evocatively paints California as a paradise ruined and Jack Nitzsche contributes a wonderfully eerie and mournful zither-driven score, which hangs over the film with a haunting melancholy.
Cutter’s Way is flawed in places. Occasionally the narrative gets a little too enigmatic for its own good and one major supporting player suddenly disappears from the story, never to be referred to again. However, the three leads are so compelling to watch that such quibbles quickly become relatively unimportant.
Cutter’s Way is one of the great lost American films of the 1980s and is well worth seeking out for fans of American cinema at its most intelligent, thought provoking and uncompromising.