Cutter's Way

1981 murder mystery

Rating: 16/20

Plot: After his friend Bone is briefly a suspect in the murder of a teenaged hitchhiker, Vietnam veteran Cutter decides to get to the bottom of things and find the real murderer.

This was something I'd wanted to see for a while but had trouble finding. It was worth the weight as it was a solid neo-noir. On the strength of a little bit of style, a score that features just enough singing saw, and strong performances by Jeff Bridges and an unhinged John Heard, this early-80's 1970's movie leaves an impression. It really does have a 70's feel. There's a grit, and it's got a pace and style that recalls something like Chinatown. But it's also got all this dialogue and these relationships that refuses to fill in gaps, and teases with all these ambiguities. 70's movies always seem more interested in the mystery than in providing the viewer with any tidy answers to clear up the mysteries, and this movie fits right in with that.

John Heard really is amazing here. The role demands a bit of physicality as he limps around with a cane and only has one arm and eye. He's half a man, but he curses and drinks like three men. He claims, in one of the movie's best lines, that the "routine grind drives [him] to drink" while he has to take tragedy straight. He's tortured by a past we barely get glimpses of, and the more we find out about the character, the more we're lost in his story and the less sense he makes. Heard plays him as a caricature, but there's this tragic undercurrent which makes him a breathing oxymoron. It's really a terrific character, and a terrific Heard performance brings him to life.

I'm not quite sure what this movie is trying to say about war, love, friendship, greed, sex, economic classes, hippie culture, paranoia, or anything else. There's a lot sprinkled into this, but no clear themes are nailed down. What it does deliver is a solid noirish tale with a pair of character studies and an ending that is as fantastic as it is ridiculous. I'm not sure why this movie isn't better known.

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