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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Cutter's Way (Blu-ray)
Cutter's Way (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // R // April 12, 2016 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Twilighttimemovies]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 28, 2016 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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Note: Although screencaps should only be considered an idea of what the disc looks like, click any capture in this review to expand the image to a full size .png.

For Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) and Alexander Cutter (John Heard), the future appears uncertain at best. Bone is a responsibility-phobic drifter, earning money on the side working as a gigolo, despite having a comfortable gig working his friend George Swanson (Arthur Rosenberg) selling yachts. Cutter is a drunken rabble-rouser who drowns his sorrows about his Vietnam war injuries (which cost him an eye, half of his arm, and part of a leg) by getting drunk and picking fights with people. Both men are in love with Mo (Lisa Eichhorn), but she has chosen Cutter, a decision she says she does not regret even as her alcoholism threatens to eclipse even Cutter's. Left to their own devices, all three would probably have just faded away, succumbing slowly to their own apathy, but when Bone witnesses a man dumping the body of a young hitchhiker in an alleyway garbage can, the pursuit of justice gives Cutter something he desperately invests in, lighting a fuse that surrounds them all.

In recent years, the profile of Cutter's Way has come up a little, thanks to a brief theatrical run in the UK, an appearance on US Netflix, and now a Blu-ray release from Twilight Time, but it remains more or less obscure. It feels wrong to call it a cult classic, because its dramatic ambition is so straightforward -- it's the kind of film that attracts direct praise, not feverish devotion. It was released by United Artists while they were still reeling from the failure of Heaven's Gate, under its original title, Cutter and Bone (which it shares with the Newton Thornburg novel it was adapted from), and was nearly buried to avoid another bomb after three major television critics panned it. Admittedly, it's a flawed film, featuring some awfully clunky lines, one flawed performance, and another that walks the fine line between blowing the roof off and chewing the scenery, but its effectiveness at evoking a gnawing sense of paranoia and inevitability feels extremely relevant in 2016.

The most effective trick that Cutter's Way pulls off is how organically the film's conflict develops. Both Cutter and Bone are self-destructive people, but their methods of doing so are at odds with each other; Cutter seethes with anger and seeks to destroy the sense of complacency in people that he no longer has, while Bone would rather fade away, avoid conflict, disappear. Normally, these qualities cancel each other out, with Bone feeling obligated to watch over his friend, and Cutter occasionally willing to listen when Bone says it's time to stop. Yet, when Bone instinctively identifies powerful local oil baron J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliott) as the man he saw in the alley, the two men's flaws allow the situation to escalate. Even as Cutter enlists the victim's sister, Valerie (Ann Dusenberry) to investigate Cord's whereabouts on the night of the murder, there are moments when it is clear he has doubts about what he's doing, yet in each one of those instances, Bone either humors Cutter or isn't there to stop him, only grasping the extent of Cutter's determination once it's too late to talk him out of it.

Cutter's confidence in Bone's memory of the incident is fascinating today when considered through the lens of modern conspiracy theories. Although Cutter and Valerie's research turns up a pretty compelling case against Cord, it's clear that Cutter's motivation in nailing him goes beyond just capturing a murderer. In Cutter's mind, Cord's villainy represents the arrogance of every powerful man who thinks they can get away with anything, and proves to Cutter that the deck is stacked against regular folks, that evil is real, and that his suffering and struggle isn't for nothing. That desperation, that need for the world to be comprehensible, clearly influences Bone's reluctance to push back. At times, it seems like forcing Cutter to give up on the "case" would be crushing the last bit of hope in him. Heard's performance sometimes threatens to step over a line into grandstanding, but the seething bitterness he projects has a poison-tipped bite to it that makes it work, as well as a streak of black humor, seen in a sequence where he torments his neighbor. Bridges, meanwhile, normally so charismatic, plays Bone with a sad-sack spinelessness, and a willingness to come off as deeply unsympathetic. Bone's quiet and simple betrayal of Mo, another example of him giving into his worst instincts, is devastating.

The character of Mo is one of the film's weaker links. Lisa Eichhorn may be a fine performer, but the dialogue Mo is given is frequently wooden and stereotypically pretentious. As the center of a love triangle, her character is clearly meant to be more important, but the supposed magnetism that would draw both Cutter and Bone to her is lacking. That said, when Eichhorn isn't struggling with the script, she lands some of the movie's most heartbreaking moments, sharing a few moments with both men in which their casual cruelty silently registers on her face. The film was directed by Ivan Passer, whose most notable credit was probably his last, co-directing the 2005 epic Nomad, which was meant to bring the Kazakhstani film industry to the global stage. Although he mostly lets the actors control the work, there are some subtle but haunting choices, including the expansion of the movie's fairly intimate atmosphere when Cutter, Bone, and Valerie visit the massive Cord building in the city, and the wild, angry abandon with which Cutter makes his last stand.

The Blu-ray
Cutter's Way arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time in one of their standard packages. The one-disc release comes in a clear Viva Elite Blu-ray case, with a booklet featuring liner notes by Julie Kirgo. The artwork features a slightly stylized image of Cutter and Bone, at the fateful moment when Bone identifies J.J. Cord as the man he saw in the alley.

The Video and Audio
MGM has provided Twilight Time with a 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for their Blu-ray of Cutter's Way, and it looks decent. The image is very grainy, possibly even noisy, and there is a fair amount of print damage throughout the presentation, but it is a significant upgrade over the DVD edition from 2001. Fine textural detail is clearly visible that was not visible before, and colors are much more natural and vibrant on the Blu-ray edition, especially the scene where Cutter, Bone, and Valerie have lunch at a restaurant recommended by George. The grain and noise limit the amount of depth that the image has, and dark areas of the picture never reach true black levels, but for a film that did not get remastered, this is a satisfying upgrade.

I dug up some DVD screencaps I took awhile ago, and have enlarged them and frame-matched them to the HD screencaps I have included in the review. The DVD screencaps can be found here, here, here, and here, and one additional set can be found here (Blu-ray) and here here (DVD).

Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that sounds more or less clean and clear, and which does a good job of capturing the music, as far as a mono track can muster. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
One extra has been created for this Blu-ray of Cutter's Way: an audio commentary by Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. Kirgo is very passionate about the movie, explaining and expanding on the ideas that she expresses in the booklet. Redman ends up serving as more of a moderator, helping to guide her thoughts on the film as the movie unfolds. Both are deeply knowledgeable about the cast and crew, and although it would have been nice if Twilight Time had managed to secure Bridges and/or Heard for an interview, this commentary serves as a nicely informative alternative.

The disc also features Twilight Time's customary isolated score (in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0), and an original theatrical trailer.

Conclusion
Although the movie is better known now than it was ten years ago, Cutter's Way is still worthy of a re-evaluation. Haunting and well-performed, the movie powers through some rough patches to tell a story about two haunted and lonely people who just lack the necessary confidence to stop each other from following a self-induced spiral to the bottom. Twilight Time's Blu-ray offers a decent presentation (certainly better than the DVD), and a well-researched and insightful commentary. Highly recommended.


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