Film Reviews

Cutter’s Way (1981) – Blu-ray Review

Sometimes it’s difficult to look at the kind of media that gets released in other territories, particularly the United States, without being envious. Where’s our special 4K UHD of Road House? However, it’s getting better, and the new UK label Radiance Films has started distributing titles from an excellent American label Fun City Editions. One of their releases is the underseen 1981 neo-noir Cutter’s Way.

Originally titled Cutter and Bone after the title of the Newton Thornburg novel it was adapted from, Cutter’s Way is a very cynical and winding mystery and drama. Alex Cutter (John Heard) is a Vietnam vet who is constantly drunk and in his own world, while Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) is his promiscuous friend who often tries to pull Cutter away from his outlandish behaviour. In the middle is Cutter’s wife Mo (Lisa Eichorn), who is also a drunk, being depressed from her relationship with Alex, or lack thereof.

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Cutter’s behaviour is exacerbated further when it’s discovered that Bone is a potential witness to the murder of a young girl after he sees a man dumping something in a dark alley after his car breaks down. He spots the man locally and discovers he is important and very rich, which sets Cutter off to investigate further. The victim’s sister, Valerie (Ann Dusenberry), joins Cutter in his crusade, and tensions deepen between him, Bone, and Mo as they wonder whether Cutter is crazy or really on to something.

Cutter’s Way is dominated by John Heard’s terrific performance as Cutter, a whirling dervish of drunken storytelling and mad genius, a man so on his own journey that he doesn’t seem to have any idea of where it’s leading. Bridges is also brilliant in a very cynical performance, with his character drawn between reality and his compassion and loyalty to his friend. Lisa Eichorn as Mo completes a fantastic central trio of characters in a heartbreaking performance full of ambiguity.

In fact, the film is all about ambiguity, and that’s one of its significant strengths. You’re never sure if Cutter is on the level about what’s going on and his theories about the murder, and you join Bone and Mo in their cynicism about him. But then you’re never sure about Bone and his true intentions and about Mo’s real feelings about Cutter. This whole love triangle of sorts adds a deeper level to every part of the story, and it makes for an emotionally resonant and haunting picture.

It’s a thrilling film too, where we feel like Bone; like we’re being dragged off by Cutter on another of his adventures. It’s beautifully lit by the great Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) to give it that noir feel, where it feels like it’s definitely at the crux of ’70s and ’80s filmmaking. Add to that a magnificent score by Jack Nitzsche with the haunting use of the glass armonica and the zither, and you have a truly unique and compelling picture.

Fun City Editions have brought Cutter’s Way in a 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative, and it looks terrific, really highlighting Cronenweth’s superb cinematography. The DTS MA 2.0 audio track is excellent, with a great balance between the diegetic sound and Nitzsche’s score. Just watch the mesmerising opening titles of the festival with Nitzsche’s melancholic-romantic theme, and it looks and sounds fantastic.

The disc is loaded with extras too. There are three audio commentaries, an introduction by Jeff Bridges as he remembers the film, and an interesting piece on the film where French director Bertrand Tavernier talks about his appreciation of the film and the career of Czech director Ivan Passer and the relative rarity of the film. There are also interviews with Passer, Eichorn, and writer Jeffrey Alan Fiskin, as well as booklet essays by Danny Peary and Margaret Barton-Fumo, the latter of which is an excellent piece on Nitzsche’s score.

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Cutter’s Way is a haunting piece of cinema that deserves a significant rediscovery alongside more famous films of its ilk, such as Body Heat and Night Moves. Fun City’s release is fantastic, and well done to Radiance for distributing it over here. Buy the Blu-ray, and watch the movie. It’s really that simple.

Cutter’s Way is out on Blu-ray on 6th February from Radiance Films and Fun City Editions UK.

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