There is a book, OK maybe a pamphlet, to be written about the great European directors who grew up learning everything they knew about America from watching Hollywood movies before coming to that very place to make their own wonderful contributions to cinema with accurate scrutinies of American society. I am not the person to write about Karel Reisz, Roman Polanski, Milos Forman, Wim Wenders & others. I am the guy stood just behind that person insisting that the name of Ivan Passer & his marvelous movie “Cutter’s Way” is included.
Ivan Passer worked alongside Milos Forman in the Czech New Wave cinema. When, in 1968, the Russian tanks rolled into Prague the pair rolled out to the USA. In 1975 Forman’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” became the first film to claim the 5 major Oscars for 40 years. Passer made some interesting films & for “Cutter’s Way” he had some talented, heavyweight assistance. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenworth worked on the film between “Altered States” & “Blade Runner”, an artist at the top of his game. The soundtrack is by Jack Nitzsche, a man who began the 60s working with Phil Spector, hung out with the Rolling Stones & Neil Young before writing or supervising the scores for “The Exorcist”, “Cuckoo”, “Blue Collar” & “Cruising”. The opening credits, a slow-mo street parade seeps from black and white to colour, musical saws & zithers, combines these talents to set the mood for a dark journey which can truly be called a modern film noir.
Alex Cutter (John Heard) is a Vietnam veteran who left an eye, an arm & a leg in country. He is angry & bitter, spraying venom from a scattergun mouth. He drinks & screws around while his beautiful, sad, alcoholic wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) mourns the loss of any positivity in the man she married. Their friend, Richard Bone, is an amoral rich boy, getting by on his looks & his cynicism. That would be Jeff Bridges then. This triangle becomes involved in a mystery which involves murder & the city’s movers & shakers. For Cutter this will not stand. Those bastards are maybe not responsible but they are sure to blame for something.
“Cutter’s Way” has an intricate, subtle & sometimes surreal exposition. As study of a tragic menage it is uncompromising & moving. It’s post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cynicism & paranoia places it alongside such films as “Coming Home”, “Dog Soldiers”,”The Conversation” & “The Parallax View”. There is an ambiguity about much of the film. Bone is told “sooner or later you’re going to have to make a decision about something”. The film was released in the year Ronald Raygun became President of a country which had little patience for innocence & idealism.
John Heard gives the performance of his life in this film. His anger blazes, his manipulation repels and his energy thrills. Jeff Bridges gives perhaps the last of his turns as a young man moving between different levels of society & enjoying what is on offer with little thought for the future. Lisa Eichhorn has a more complex role than I précised & absolutely nails it. I left the cinema blown away by this film. I neither know nor care if it is a cult movie or is just forgotten. This crepuscular work is comparable with Philip K Dick’s “A Scanner Darkly” as a caustic elegy for a generation. Here is how it ends.