' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Cutter's Way (1981)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday's Old Fashioned: Cutter's Way (1981)

Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges), a drifting gigolo, might have a gig selling sailboats but he’s no man of means, which is why he’s introduced sleeping with someone else’s wife and then asking, not so much sheepishly as faux-sheepishly, if he can borrow few a bucks off her and driving a jaunty little sports car that’s a piece of crap, seen when the spotty engine gives way on the side of the road. That’s where another car pulls up behind him and a guy obscured by the darkness gets out, dumps a woman’s body in a trash can and then speeds away, nearly hitting Bone in the process. If this moment becomes the driving plot point, “Cutter’s Way”, directed by Ivan Passer, never turns exactly suspenseful or even urgent, more concerned with establishing a mood, the last vestiges of 60s radicalism having gone through the pungent tunnel of Vietnam and Watergate and wound up here in a cloud of bitterness and indifference. In retrospect, the 1981 setting looms even larger, on the cusp of Morning in America, which would merely leave the masses gasping for more air while they were told by everyone on top how good they supposedly had it, a blurry sensation evoked in Jack Nitzsche’s score wafting back and forth between wistful and festive.

The movie’s meandering pace evokes Bone’s own languor, brought home in a masterful physical performance by Bridges, all lazy posture, slung back in chairs and leaning against walls, sometimes listening, not always caring. It defines his lazy life, brought home perhaps a little too obviously in his supervisor and friend, George (Arthur Rosenberg), admonishing that “sooner or later you’ll have to make a decision about something.” Then again, immediately upon saying this, Bone makes a big decision, or so it seems, and yet even then Bridges hardly sits up; squint and you’ll see the makings of The Dude. His attitude juxtaposes with his friend, Alex Cutter (John Heard), a Vietnam vet who’s not so much disillusioned as defeated and agitating for some payback, sporting an eye patch, an obvious Ahab allegory that comes off not because Heard isn’t playing to it but is playing it to the hilt, like he’s read the book and is channeling the vibe. And so if Bone’s blasé attitude combined with his good looks (the only matter we truly see him attending too his moustache in the very first shot) allows him to move with relative ease between the worlds of the haves and have nots, looking equally at home in a schooner on the water and wandering into a bar after hours, Cutter sticks out like a sore thumb.

Their friendship, however, is complicated by Alex’s wife, Mo (Lisa Eichhorn). She doesn’t come between them, however, even if there are flickers of attraction between her and Bone, emotional leftovers from The Way It Might Have been. If anything, Bone comes between them, their marriage clearly at the end of its rope, with Cutter trying to incite arguments and Mo not so much brushing them off as ignoring them by perpetually existing in a haze of liquor. That’s not to suggest she’s just another underwritten female character. No, you occasionally detect flickers of life, like when she brings home a bag of groceries because she’s sick of subsisting on liquor, which the movie doesn’t prop up as some earnest attempt at sobriety but just a longing for when living mattered, all of which improbably comes home in the way she really, truly pronounces the “tomato”, longingly, like eating vegetables is talking in Swahili. She’s been written out of her own life, in other words, by Cutter, seemingly just sitting around to finally kicks off, not a femme fatale, as the typical noir might dictate, bringing ruin on the others, but being ruined herself by sticking with him.

Cutter pushes her to this point by going all in on a blackmail scheme when he and Bone think they’ve pinpointed the local rich fella responsible for the death of girl whose body Bone saw get dumped. The plan, in tandem with the dead girl’s sister (Ann Dusenberry), is not so much to get money off the guy, as press him into confessing by having Bone put a letter in his hands making clear he knows he’s responsible. Here, Passer makes an unlikely but effective choice, forgoing certain scenes that would seem part and parcel to such a ruse, like the actual delivery of the letter, which shows Bone marching in to confront the rich guy but cutting away before the delivery occurs, leaving us to assume it happened but dropping hints that it did not. This ellipsis, and others, makes us question the reality of what we’re seeing, whether this is all invented within their own minds, and whether what they’re doing is truly to avenge the woman’s death or to settle their own social score. And Cutter, and Heard’s performance, fiercely suggest it’s the latter. In one scene, Cutter stands at pool table beneath the glow of green lamps, photographs and maps and god knows what else scattered before him, very much cutting the figure of a conspiracy theorist and looking for all the world like, no matter what Bone says, he’s already got it all figured, see.

1 comment:

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

It's time to question again if what we are seeing is reality.