The Hunger Games‘ Liam Hemsworth stars as a small town guy who wants out and will do anything necessary to escape the confines of his rural Montana hometown in Cut Bank, a thriller that marks the feature film directorial debut of veteran TV director Matt Shakman. Working from a script by Roberto Patino (Sons of Anarchy, Prime Suspect), Shakman’s rookie feature film effort is reminiscent in tone to early Coen Brothers’ films. However, unlike the Coen Brothers’ movies, Cut Bank suffers from unnecessary exposition that interrupts the flow of the indie thriller and holds it back from earning the high marks of the films it takes after.
Screenwriters occasionally forget that audiences are capable of catching on to the intimate details of characters’ lives without the need to spoon-feed them information. Cut Bank inserts too much exposition – and does so repeatedly – but fortunately the talented ensemble makes it possible to not necessarily overlook that but to shove it aside a bit and get caught up in this twisted tale of small-town murder.
Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer play the town’s best-looking couple, Dwayne and Cassandra, who just happen to be out in the middle of a field shooting a video when they capture the murder of a postman in the background. The local sheriff’s never had to handle a murder case, and the sight of blood makes him squeamish, but he’s determined to ferret out the killer’s identity once Cassandra’s father convinces the couple to turn the video over to the authorities. Even without the postman’s body, the video is enough to prove to the sheriff there was a killing and Dwayne’s convinced it’s also enough to earn him the $100,000 reward offered by the U.S. Postal Service for any evidence in the murder of one of their employees.
But of course things aren’t as they initially seem and Cut Bank soon evolves into a full-on dark comedy as who did what to whom with whose knowledge is left up to the sheriff, the postal inspector, and one very impatient resident on the postman’s route to figure out.
Hemsworth, Palmer, Bruce Dern, Billy Bob Thornton, John Malkovich, Oliver Platt, and Michael Stuhlbarg make up the ensemble and each brings something special to their roles. Hemsworth and Palmer have real chemistry, with Hemsworth in particular surpassing expectations as a leading man. Malkovich is the sheriff who’s the heart and soul of the film, Dern’s the postman who’s also anxious to leave small town life behind, and Thornton plays Palmer’s dad who dislikes his daughter’s choice for a boyfriend and who’s used to having his opinion heard and acted on. Platt provides much of the comedy relief as the postal inspector who loves diner food, and Stuhlbarg’s nearly unrecognizable as the recluse who tirelessly hunts down his missing package.
Cut Bank has a clever premise and a cast that works hard to make it worthwhile to stick with the film through the clunky parts. And while it doesn’t live up to its set-up, there’s enough going on in Cut Bank that it’s not a bad choice for fans of either indie thrillers or dark comedies.
MPAA rating: R for violence and language
Running time: 93 minutes
-By Rebecca Murray
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