Cutter's Way (1981) / Drama-Thriller
aka Cutter and Bone
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, violence, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, Ann Dusenberry, Stephen Elliott, Arthur Rosenberg, Patricia Donahue
Director: Ivan Passer
Screenplay: Jeffrey Alan Fiskin (based on the novel, "Cutter and Bone", by Newton Thornberg)
Review published July 29, 2005
Originally released under the book's title of Cutter and Bone, Cutter's Way is a film that has a purposely unfocused way of telling a story, languishing in some scenes in lackadaisical fashion, and as such, it is also a film that won't be for all tastes. However, it does have a following of viewers that think it is brilliant filmmaking of the highest order, particularly among those that are very much into the bleak dramas that were more popular in the 1970s. As much as I'd love to be on that side of the fence, my mind won't lead me where my heart yearns to follow, as for much of the running length, I found Cutter's Way to be a bit hard to believe (especially since I am from Santa Barbara, where the film is set), and even worse, quite boring when it doesn't deal with the murder mystery at large. Some might find the break away from standard thriller elements to be refreshing, but in this case, a few less rough edges at certain times probably would have helped immensely.
Jeff Bridges (King Kong, Tron) plays Richard Bone (a name that begs to be used in porn), a gigolo of sorts that is suspected to be the perpetrator of a murder in a rainy alley one day when his car dies near the victim's body. The cops interrogate him but ultimately set him free, but his best friend, a one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged Vietnam vet named Alex Cutter (Heard, Big), becomes fixated on the details of the crime, especially when Bone claims that the man that he saw near the body on the evening in question is head honcho oil man J.J. Cord, one of the richest and most powerful men in the country. Cutter's obsession leads him to join in with the victim's sister, Valerie (Dusenberry, Jaws 2), into a blackmail scheme that would extort a large sum of money from Cord should their hunch be right. However, Bone is uneasy about the scheme, as he isn't exactly convinced about his recollection of the events of the evening in question, and he reluctantly goes along with the plan, if only to try to stay close enough to keep the impulsive madman friend of his from going too far.
Cutter's Way has its strong qualities, most notably in the performances of the cast, with Jeff Bridges shining brightest in a subtle, introverted performance. Heard also gives a memorable turn as Cutter, although the character is written to be a bit larger than life, similar to many other such characters you'd find in a trashy novel, the likes of which this film was born from. However, Vietnam veterans especially may find much of what he says about the war and the difficulties in making the transition into regular society to ring certain truths, so one can see that Cutter has a right to be hostile and vengeful.
While I'm ultimately giving the film a middling review, bear in mind that it is also challenging and intelligent enough that some viewers will find it fascinating for all of the things that I claim are dull. While it does merit another viewing, on first pass, Cutter's Way had the core of something every worthwhile, yet Passer's somber and scattershot treatment doesn't really help give the impetus to drive points home with conviction. A different film than the norm, strictly for those that like things like that.
©2005 Vince Leo