Cutter’s Way (1981) – Movie Review

Cutter’s Way, directed by Ivan Passer, is a decent enough film that presses some interesting ideas, however, one can’t help but feel that it could have been something more. The acting, cinematography, direction and score are all good, but it’s the script that weighs everything down, and it’s not even a bad script, just one laden with numerous flaws.

The movie starts with Rick Bone, played by a pre-“Dude” Jeff Bridges, living the cushy lifestyle until witnessing the murderer of a teenage girl as he was dumping the body, however, after leaving his car after it breaks down by where the body is found he becomes the prime suspect of the homicide. Soon, Rick recognizes the murderer in the parade–J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliot,) a rich oil tycoon. Rick’s friend, an alcoholic and physically-disabled Vietnam vet named Alex Cutter (John Heard) prompts Rick to inform the police that Cord was the one who dumped the body, but Rick is reluctant to, possibly because he fears endangering his lifestyle if Cord comes after him. As a result, Cutter decides, along with the victim’s sister Valerie Duran (Ann Dusenberry) to try to blackmail Cord, believing that if Cord pays-up it would be an admission of guilt and Cutter will bring this information to the police. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as planned and Rick Bone’s life becomes in jeopardy.

While the movie is classified as a “thriller” and the plot reflects this, the center of the movie is Rick’s relationship with Alex and his wife (Lisa Eichhorn). Rick, like Alex, is a liberal but unlike Alex is lazy and more adamant about maintaining his easy lifestyle. Rick is obviously correct in believing that blackmailing a wealthy oil tycoon is a terrible idea, but he offers no other solution and would much rather keep quiet, allowing an evil to go unresolved. Even after he recognizes Cord as the guy he saw the night of the murder he quickly changes the story, insisting on the possibility that he was wrong. Throughout the film Rick denies the obvious while Alex cuts through the B.S. However, Alex is a violent, emotionally-disturbed but driven man whose obsessed with enacting “justice”. To Alex, Cord represents the evil, rich man who eludes justice while everyone else is massacred in the trenches. The scenes where Rick and Alex argue over the morality of their decisions constitute the best the movie has to offer for they are the most intellectually intriguing as well as the best-acted and most memorable.

Some of the drama also takes place between Rick and Alex’s wife who is lonely. Alex and his wife’s relationship is quite damaged as their sex life has dwindled into nothing (due to the pain of Alex’s wounds–the left side of his body is missing an eye, a forearm and leg,) and they both cannot emotionally deal with one another thanks to Alex’s drunkennes. Rick and Alex’s wife are obviously smitten with one another, or at least lust after one another, however Alex’s wife continually denies Rick’s advancements. While some of these scenes are good they don’t carry as much as the aforementioned scenes with Rick and Alex. And the scenes where Rick finally does become intimate with her drag on for way too long. One could argue that their sex scene has to go on and on in order to capture the discomfort Alex’s wife has in betraying her husband, but the surrounding scenes with the two (the minutes before and after they have sex) are far too bloated and plod along ever so slowly.

Another flaw comes with Rick’s character and his not going to the police to tell them about seeing Cord. Even though he wants to protect himself I just couldn’t by his possible reasoning for not claiming that he witnessed Cord. It just didn’t seem all that believable that he wouldn’t want to say anything because the audience isn’t given enough reason behind his motivations. This reeks of the screenwriter trying to push the plot forward by disregarding reality, which is kind of frustrating to watch.

But the script’s greatest problem comes at the end (warning: spoilers! skip this paragraph and the next if you don’t like spoilers!!!) At the end, after Alex has blackmailed Cord, Cord fucking burns his house down with his wife in it. Rick suggests that maybe his wife burned the house down on her own after Rick left her alone (he basically admits to having an affair to Alex at this point,) but it’s obvious that Rick is just lying to Alex and himself for it’s apparent that Cord was responsible. So, Rick and Alex infiltrate a party being held at Cord’s mansion. Rick thinks that Alex is just going to negotiate with him, but then he learns that Alex is going to straight-up murder the dude. This leads into a few chases with Cord’s security chasing Alex and Rick around. Rick is caught and is confronted by Cord (the first time he is shown up close and speaks) while Alex commandeers a horse from Cord’s stable. This is where the movie decides to drop right off the cliff. Alex rides along the side of the pool (or I should say, a stuntman wearing the world’s worst hairpiece) and then launches himself through Cord’s office window where Rick and Cord are. This scene is so over-the-top, doesn’t fit with the rest of the film’s tone and borders on comedic–if it were in another film it would have been amazing, but here it’s just jarring. I know Alex is supposed to be self-destructive and obsessive and this scene was supposed to culminate with all of that, but come on!

Then Rick goes to tend to Alex, but Alex dies due to the broken glass (I guess) after handing him the gun. Rick looks up and fires in Cord’s direction (Cord is shot off-screen). The End. What’s weird about all this is how the ending is both over-the-top nonsense and anti-climatic at the same time, what with Alex’s shenanigans and Rick just plainly shooting Cord (we don’t even get to see Cord dying!) One of my friends, whom I was watching the film with, came-up with an even better ending where there’s ambiguity as to whether Cord really was the killer, yet Alex murders him anyway out of spite for what he represents, not for what definitely did, and then the aftermath. This would have been a more poetic ending and would have also fit better with the movie’s themes, but the filmmakers seemed like they didn’t know how the end the movie so they just ended it…with that, nearly ruining what could have been something pretty good.

Unfortunately, Cutter’s Way, is another film that could have been so much more, but it’s still pretty decent. However, it still contains some depth which makes it a more engaging watch than the fucking schlock that Hollywood is pumping out these days like Think Like a Man Too! Who wants to see that bunch of slop! Am I right?!? Guys?!?!

Oh wait, there’s this one scene I forgot to mention. Early on in the movie, Alex is super-drunk and plows another car out of his driveway, pushing it into his neighbor’s front lawn. The neighbors are, predictably, furious at such hooliganry and call the cops. While the cops come Alex heads back into his house and drinks some mouthwash (this shows how smart Alex is–he is masking his breathe whilst still sating his alcohol addiction!) He comes out and talks to the police officer in the most civil way possible, but in a way that’s entirely believable. The cop sympathizes with Alex and only writes him off a ticket for an expired license. This scene is great because it shows that, despite his convictions, Alex is a hypocrite for he doesn’t take responsibility for a crime he committed, choosing to weasel his way out instead. Despite his pursuing of justice he is more interested in seeking revenge–the man is entirely selfish, even though the audience can sympathize with him, just like the cop.

So I guess I would recommend this movie, despite its being overlong, for the few scenes that contain some great depth and dialogue.