Director: Matt Shakman
Writer: Roberto Patino
Top Billed: Liam Hemsworth, John Malkovich
How long do you think Liam Hemsworth can leech off having the same name as his far more talented brother?
Cut Bank is a sort of Fargo-esque thriller. With that same small town feel, the film centers on Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth) a small town boy, born and raised in.. Cut Bank Montana? Dwayne has dreams of leaving his small town for bigger and better things. His life then changes drastically when, by chance, he catches the murder of his towns mailman (Bruce Dern) on video. A crazy series of events follows as Dwayne learns that the USPS is willing to pay handsomely in reward money due to the video. Now having to deal with the town sheriff (John Malkovich) his girlfriend’s father (Billy Bob Thornton) and an enigmatic recluse (Michael Stuhlbarg), everything begins to unravel.
Cut Bank has some real heavy hitters. If you forget Liam Hemsworth, you get to watch and estimable quartet of character actors that are the backbone of this film. Trying so desperately to be Fargo, Cut Bank is a routine thriller trying to disguise itself as a small town morality play. In a rather grand endeavor, first time feature director Matt Shakman sets his sights high, even by Indie standards. Trying his best to recreate the atmosphere of the cult classics that came before, where Shakman succeeds is in driving the performances of his veteran cast members.
The cast for Cut Bank is exceptional. Bringing some thoroughbreds to drive the story and keep the film from completely derailing is the best thing Shakman did as director. John Malkovich hoists the film on his back and does all that he can to keep things interesting. Billy Bob Thornton doesn’t work quite as hard as Malkovich, but in every scene he is able to fill the void the likes of Hemsworth and on screen daughter Teresa Palmer create. Bruce Dern is a pure delight as always. Stealing every scene he appears in, teetering back and forth between charismatic charming neighborhood mailman and deviantly perverted old fart, harboring a ruthless sense of self preservation. Stuhlbarg’s stoic and stuttering Derby Milton is delightfully disturbing even if not totally fleshed out as a character. Stuhlbarg was able to make the most of his role by bringing an almost childlike innocence that spirals into madness as the film progresses. These four work tirelessly to bring this film out of the mundane, but ultimately fail.
There is this undercurrent of small town cynicism smoldering beneath the surface throughout Cut Bank. Lacking originality makes it difficult to buy into this midwestern town, which if done right, should be a character in and of itself. The film fails miserably to properly incorporate it’s setting as a central figure, a misstep that sabotages the films chances at achieving that small town tongue in cheek noir it set out for.
Hemsworths Dwayne is supposed to be the central figure. The initial story about a young man trying to balance between becoming an adult and the proverbial gray areas of morality that come with growing up and making difficult decisions. This could have worked quite well if Shakman hadn’t cast an emotionless wooden and bland Hemsworth as his lead. All of Hemsworth scenes fade into obscurity and essentially become so unmemorable that it becomes a severe detriment to the story. Similarly disastrous is Teresa Palmer’s Cassandra. Not clear if it’s more script related, but in a film where all the characters are revealed to be deeper than their initial appearances, Palmer’s Beauty queen wanna-be is perpetually vapid and never transcends the one note presence her character showcases.
Cut Bank is ambitious to a fault. It tries so hard to copy the atmosphere of films like Fargo that it comes off like an annoying younger brother constantly copying everything you do. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but if it continues for too long it just becomes obnoxious. The central character posed the biggest threat to the films success and Hemsworth’s failure ultimately meant the film never really had a chance. The fantastic performances from the films four side characters are sadly not enough to save the film. The direction is rather bland, stylistically bringing nothing new. There is no flair and flash and certainly no visual inventiveness that will keep you captivated. There are simply too many holes for the veterans stars to fill here making for borish and bland attempt at a comedic noir. For all this and more it pains me to give Cut Bank a 2/5 despite the hard work of its elder cast members.
2/5 Do Better Bro