There's a little bit of voyeur in everyone. It's a safe bet that not a single one of us has resisted the temptation to gawk in a rubberneck fashion at a traffic accident or police stop. Who among us hasn't grabbed a pair of binoculars (old school), a video camera (new tech) or a telescope (total geek) and snuck a peek or two at the neighbors in the high rise/home/dorm next to us? Such a fixation with other people's secrets has led to a new form of entertainment, the much maligned (and mostly rightly so) reality genre, in which hidden recorders catch people in the act of being either themselves or their debauched evil twin. Sure, since the 50s, Candid Camera set the benchmark for undercover blunder fodder. Seeing a man fight with a coffee cup glued to the counter or a secretary attempt to decipher a mumbling boss was the height of "I Like Ike" comedy. Today, there must be drama and intrigue, not befuddlement and good clean fun when it comes to real media. There is nothing enjoyable or innocent in filming psychological meltdowns, sexual depravity and ethical erosions. And it doesn't matter if the camera is obvious. People so desperate for their 15 minutes and a shot at an additional 2 or 3 more will do just about anything, lens in full view, for a small sampling of that ultimate drug: fame. So it's no surprise that, in 1998, an up and coming generation of British actors devised a "reality" movie based on the secret videotapes of their dead friend. Final Cut wants to be a darkly comic revelation about how well we know our friends. But it ends up being a pat, pathetic peek into the lives of absolute bastards.
Jude is dead and his friends have come to mourn him. As part of his last wishes, he wants this collection of acquaintances to watch a videotape he has made. His pals are shocked when they see the story's set-up: Jude had wired his house with hidden cameras and microphones and captured all of them in moments of less than flattering behavior. He has melded all these acts of moral misery into an interpersonal social commentary on the crowd he runs with. The gathered individuals are appalled. They witness drug abuse, sexual perversity, adultery, lying, stealing, slander, seduction, disloyalty, assault and hints of even more hideous and deplorable behavior. Everyone is uncomfortable and defensive, especially the couples that are literally slapped in the face with the reality of what their better half supposedly thinks of them. But Jude's widow, Sadie, keeps everyone watching, hoping to find a method to her departed husband's eavesdropping madness. Eventually, they all witness the manner of Jude's death and it will shake the very foundation of each and every relationship in the group. Apparently, this was what Jude was driving at. This is why he demanded a kind of friendship "final cut."
Someone, be it the actors or the filmmakers, must have thought that Final Cut would be a good idea. And why not: the inherent drama of people reacting to having their secret lives spilled out in public and having to face the truth about what their so-called friends/wives/families think about them makes for a potentially compelling, rather ripe premise. It's practically the foundation for all theater. Add to that a desire to follow such British bastions of bravery, the filmmaking Mikes (Figgis and Leigh) in creating improvisational movies, cinema where the performers know only the barest of plotlines and then are called up to draw up characters and create scenes to fulfill a directorial desire and vision. If it's successful, you and your mates are geniuses, able to pull off the ultimate cinematic hat trick: the creation of a compelling, original work of complete collaboration. Only problem is, when this type of movie goes wrong, it goes very wonky wrong. Final Cut, sadly, is one of those futile fumbles. What is supposed to be compelling is arch, the drama almost drained completely of life and the final revelation comes out of a left field so formulaic that blind illiterates saw it coming a dozen kilometers away. Instead of wallowing in reality, Final Cut flounders in the gargantuan egos and underdeveloped talent of its making-it-up-as-they-go-along, so-called professionals.
The significant problem with this experimental film is that directors/creators Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis don't let anything organic or natural happen. They run in fear at any attempt at simply letting matters play out realistically. Drug use by a couple of characters MUST have broad, criminal ramifications. A brutish thug must naturally end up being a mindless wife beater and potential threat to all around him. A juvenile woman with a paraplegic for a husband has to take her hatred to painful personal levels and manifest her mania in a desire to steal that leads to blackmail. The mousy man must be effeminate and the casual acquaintance a lingerie-wearing transvestite. And then worst of all there is our main character, the supposedly charismatic Jude (played here by same named Jude Law). Here is a man who is so smitten with himself and his sneaky way of recording his friends that he turns his home into CIA Headquarters. He relishes the private knowledge that circumstances he sets up (see, not EVERYTHING he records comes as the natural progression of life) result in terrible, embarrassing and even physically harmful incidents for his friends. Jude relishes being the mixer, the mean-spirited sad sack who can't be happy until everyone around him is miserable. What Jude's buddies learn far too well is, with friends like him, who needs a tabloid? His personal agenda against his pals is pathetic and unexplained.
Now, one could argue that Jude is just the typical smart ass, witnessing the hideous actions of the people he knows and loves and deciding they need to be taught a lesson. He wants to rub their nose in their own hypocrisy and vanquish his own guilt (by association or, in some cases, direct action) via the recording of their misdeeds. As long as he carries the video camera with him, he is absolved. The fact that he doesn't prevent the assaults and actually stirs up many of the aggressive scenarios that play out is of no import to him. He just smiles with his impish grin, argues that this is for "everyone's own good" and then fires up the next installment of Let's Embarrass Everyone. Is it ok to spit in the face of the charlatan when you too are just as fraudulent (be it drugs or dicking someone else's spouse?). Yet Jude is never taken to task. Besides the fact that he is conveniently dead – making it kind of hard to read him the riot act – he would probably go about hiding behind the truth. These people are miserable miscreants, so exposing them can only be good, right? Maybe, but is it really true? Filmmakers for decades have championed the idea that unless you film someone in real time for the length of time they are doing an action, the moment you cut, or change the angle or perspective, you begin the process of interpreting, not showing reality. So what we see is Jude's impression of his friends, channeled and edited through his thoughts about who and what they are. And apparently they are a bunch of abhorrent sods that deserve everything they get, including the interpreter. Jude is not a friend; he is his namesake, a traitor to the notion and ideals of friendship.
Not that these people really deserve a friend (they do, however, deserve each other). Perhaps the most aggravating factor in Final Cut is that every character here, at their core, is exposed to be immoral swine. No one has any value system. They are easily manipulated and maneuvered into deserting each other and their own family for instant gratification and self-aggrandizement. In the character of Roy, we have a bully of a human boulder that reeks of the repugnant manner in which he treats problems and threatens his friends. His hallow apologies are supposed to ring false, but they are perhaps the only time he is ever true to himself and those around him. He will literally say anything in hopes of getting his way. His wife is no better, a flighty field mouse more than happy to accept his boorish ways as a means of getting solace from her pals. Or take Mark and Holly. She is a thief, stealing money from purses at parties and looking for any manner of fraud to feed her need for material love. He is a cripple who takes pride in being a handicapped coward. He doesn't use his wheelchair as a physical crutch but as an emotional one, a means of getting people to instantly feel sorry for him. Yet the two most vacant individuals are saved for the filmmakers themselves. Dom and Ray are a couple of coked-up losers who think nothing of snorting during the wake or taking their friend's money to feed their habit. They are not so much addicted to the drug as they are to the idea of doing drugs. It keeps them young. It keeps them cool. It keeps them disconnected from the rest of the world who would tell them how wrong they were.
Really a group of people you want to spend time with, right? Indeed, about the only way one can enjoy Final Cut is as a mean-spirited series of comeuppances for a bunch of brats who have had it coming for a long overdue time. You may feel a sharp pang of delight as self-righteous shit after horrible asshole gets his faults flaunted for everyone to see and memorize. Or maybe you will find the performances exceptional. Maybe you'll like the fact that, when required to develop their own dialogue, all arguments are strewn with more epithets than ideas and all interpersonal exchanges sound like the inside of a stupid sappy greeting card. You couldn't enjoy Final Cut for the filmmaking itself, which is really a movie (Jude's secret cameras are still in action) inside a movie (Sadie has called a camera crew over for the wake) inside a movie (Jude's original video voyeurism). Anciano and Burdis get lost so many times, forgetting the focus and perspective we are supposed to be dealing with that shots allegedly coming from one source are actually inhabiting a difference recording "space". They also fail to understand that the choppy editing and narrative randomness undoes any suspense or mystery they want to create. If we are supposed to discover who killed Jude at the end (and no one ever told us he was MURDERER) then aren't we supposed to CARE who done it as well? Is merely solving the case the purpose behind Final Cut? If so, Anciano and Burdis went about it the wrong way completely. They create a crappy character study, and then insert the surprise twist ending. They want a startling revelation. What they get is a groan.
Final Cut suffers from ambitions so lofty that hot air balloonists couldn't follow them and mechanics for achieving them are equally full of overheated gas. It wants to be an acting troupe tour de force, a chance for several soon to be big name stars to flex their method pecs for the entire world to wonder at. Trouble is, Final Cut is almost incoherent. It starts off being a voyeuristic romp, slowly meanders into a harsh interpersonal molestation and then – VOM! – it's an Agatha Christie detective tale without any of the old birds clockwork plotting. Too many things happen randomly in Final Cut and too many things happen for very particular, unnatural reasons. A film that dealt in a straight ahead, non-narrative driven way exposing human foibles in all their freshness and candor would have been exciting. It would have provided insights into the human animal that few films have tried to explore. But this movie wants to mimic its reality entertainment brethren and wrap up all the loss ends in nice, pat portions. Real life isn't like that; it's sloppy and irregular and painful. Kind of like watching Final Cut all the way through.
As a film, Final Cut looks great. The DVD presented by Replay Home Entertainment offers a 1.85:1 transfer that is both non-anamorphic and (one assumes) not the original aspect ratio. The movie was made on digital cameras and other film mediums so it is a safe bet that what we have here is matted to recreate the advertised "letterbox" presentation. Still, the image is sharp and clear, filled with details and subtle color shifts. You will notice a small amount of pixelization, but it only occurs when the screen goes black for its numerous fade-outs. And then, the effect is limited to one small corner.
Featured in Dolby Digital Stereo, Final Cut has some aural issues. The dialogue, recorded to give the movie that "spontaneous" quality occasionally gets lost in all the shouting and ambient ruckus. If we are supposed to hear whispered exchanges clearly, we don't. Also, the music (when it is used) blares above everything else, wiping out all other sonic elements. Adjusted to the proper level, Final Cut is a decent, but flawed soundscape.
It's about time to tell studios that trailers are no longer considered viable extras. Adding them to a title is now a least-you-can-do bare bones bounty, not something to shout about. Yet Replay throws on the trailer for Final Cut and three other should-be atrocities (though Repli-Kate has a cute title to match its forced premise) that won't have you running to the cineplex (or most likely the rental store) anytime soon. It's possible that if Anciano and Burdis had been given a chance to add a commentary track, they could talk and charm their way out of what they've done. But this isn't a speeding ticket we're discussing here. They would have to be a couple of silver-tongued titans to prevent the punishment due them. So perhaps there is something to thank Replay for. After sitting through this tripe for 90 odd minutes, you don't have to be bothered with an additional explanatory narrative.
There are those who will watch Final Cut, regardless of what this review says, and experience something profound and moving. They will see Jude Law's plight, his Candide among his craven friends and champion his cruel outing. There will be some who see Sadie Frost as living the lie she would later experience in real life when the once happy couple (Law and Frost were married from 1997 to 2003) dragged their soiled linen into the courts for a decidedly messy divorce. Still others will see Ray Winstone's plight, Mark and Holly's dissolving trust and Ray and Dominic's tumble into drug Hell as an honest and truthful account of people trapped in the act of being flawed. But none of this is what is really going on in Final Cut. This is a straightforward film about friend's betrayed and exposed, mashed through an ersatz experimental narrative style and fleshed out with a lot of acting egos to create something so mind-numbingly dull that it makes The Surreal World look like Playhouse 90. Sometimes, performers work better when they are scripted, able to interpret words not make them up out of the air. And a clear directorial vision makes or breaks a movie. Final Cut has neither of those things. Any film that can make the captivating Jude Law seem juvenile, the slinky Sadie Frost appear soiled and the teddy bearish Ray Winstone seem personally sadistic is not playing fair. The reality genre has enough horse hockey within it already. It didn't and doesn't need Final Cut fouling its already rotten entertainment freak show.
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