Cut Bank Matt Shakman
Published Apr 09, 2015By now, it's obvious that any cinematic depiction of small town dreamers taking a shortcut to the American dream won't turn out well. It's the modern western format, wherein humble Americans promised opportunities far beyond their suburban reach make morally abject decisions that reveal as much about the thriller format as they do the vacillating psychological disposition of a nation built on an unsustainable and unrealistic dream. Cut Bank is no exception to this rule, following mostly in the footsteps of Fargo and A Simple Plan — not, in this case, featuring a man hiring a hit man to kill his cheating wife like many films within this genre lexicon — by detailing the consequences of a get rich quick scheme.
Dwayne McLaren (Liam Hemsworth) and his dim bulb girlfriend Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) dream of escaping the limitations of Cut Bank, Montana. Cassandra's goals are somewhat realistic: win a local beauty pageant and move to the vast metropolis of Butte. Dwayne, on the other hand, has dreams of moving to California, which becomes a potential reality when he inadvertently films the murder of Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern), a local mailman whose existence represents the tail end of a lifetime of mediocrity and disappointment.
Unsurprisingly, there's more to this setup than originally is revealed at first. A postal inspector (Oliver Platt) shows up to help the local Sheriff (John Malkovich) investigate the crime (sort of) and Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg), the local weirdo and shut-in, comes out of hiding to find a package that was in Georgie's delivery truck at the time of the shooting.
What is surprising is how straightforward and uncomplicated the plot ultimately is. Once the first couple of twists are revealed and the wide array of characters is introduced, television director Matt Shakman's feature directorial debut doesn't really go anywhere. Despite everyone presumably having a darker side to them — save Cassandra, whose vapid characterization suggests that writer Roberto Patino has never actually met a woman in his entire life — no one does anything to suggest complexities beyond what is initially presented. It's not the fault of the actors, who all do what they can with the single anecdotal speech they're each given to tell (rather than show) the audience what their backstory and motivations are; rather, it's the result of a script that should have gone through more revisions, or at least aspired to be more than a particularly moody episode of CSI.
This is exacerbated by Shakman's flat, mediocre television drama direction, which is oddly utilitarian and devoid of any sort of tone or tension. Historically, films within this genre — films that examine the darker aspects of a culture embedded in false presentation — succeed when paired with noir techniques or some sort of stylization to reinforce the boilerplate themes. With Cut Bank, there's no aesthetic or structural consideration of those themes, leaving only the rather generic observations on the page to come through.
Resultantly, this genre piece is a forgettable, throwaway diversion, one that adds nothing to the dialogue and serves no real purpose beyond demonstrating that even capable actors can't save a shitty script.