My Review of ‘Cutter’s Way’ (1981)

This movie is … well … very late 70s. Originally titled Cutter and Bone (which makes it sound like a story about a meat market), the main character in the film is what they used to call a “beach bum”, which is an old term for a “slacker”. He is played by none other than Jeff Bridges.

His friend, Alex Cutter, is a Vietnam vet who suffered substantial physical trauma during his deployment. He isn’t exactly a happy camper with any of that, not to mention the politicians who made it all possible.

Okay, so our hero, Richard Bone (played by Bridges), witnesses a peculiar event when his car breaks down one rainy night. He thinks he sees a man toss something large into a trash can. This is later revealed to be a young girl’s body—dead, of course. Brutally murdered.

And, for reasons I never completely understood, Bone becomes a suspect. Because you have to have a scene that raises the stakes and sets things in motion. Plus you gotta have a part where the Big Bad Lawman beats the crap out of grills the deadbeat bum suspect with great gusto.

Image via ListFilm.

Bone later spots an influential man at the local “Founder’s Day Parade”—an event splashed across the screen during the opening credits with all the pomp and circumstance of small town Tex-Mex/American boosterism. Complete with flag holders carrying the Stars and Stripes and majorettes in red, white, and blue, prancing about in their tiny, shiny outfits while the band plays on. They’re in the background, upstaged by two women the woman in white.

Please note the dream-like quality of the US-Mexican mashup, set to the most ethereal music. Followed by our introduction to Bone’s world.

That folks is a very Seventies opener and set up. Now, in addition, when Cutter learns that Bone thinks this influential pillar of the community named J.J. Cord might have been the guy he might have seen dumping the girl in with the garbage, Cutter develops a conspiracy theory. And a plan. He believes Cord’s the killer and it’s being covered up. And guess who’s the patsy?

Image via The Art’s Desk.

I’ll stop there for a moment to ask the obvious question. Does anyone see the seeds for The Big Lebowski in any of this? If not, wait for it.

You see, Cutter’s idea (or Cutter’s Way, if you will) is to blackmail Cord, baiting him with it, until he acknowledges the threat, thus forcing an unspoken confession.

Now do you see any resemblance whatsoever?

Jeff Bridges’ beach bum is a Dude in the making. He doesn’t want any part of this crazy scheme.

Cutter, on the other hand, is a hugely pissed off Vietnam vet. One who continually needles Bone (and gets on everyone’s nerves) to the point where Bone finally gives in. Likely to get him to calm the fuck down.

Now, admittedly, Cutter’s war-related emotions are WAY more raw and obvious (as are his physical disabilities) than those of John Goodman as the Vietnam-war obsessive Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. But still … in both movies Bridges plays the most passive of protagonists. It is Cutter (played by an almost unrecognizable John Heard) who drives the action.

There is also a love interest, but she’s not an artist whose work has been described in vaginal terms. She’s Cutter’s unhappy, neglected wife Mo (short for Maureen), who at one point was Bone’s main squeeze.

Image via Qwipster.

The movie weaves a bit awkwardly between the love-hate triangle among the threesome and the whole blackmailing scheme. It culminates in what should be a harrowing twist that I could see coming a few scenes ahead that came off a bit muted, because that’s the kind of thing they did in movies from this era.

This film is so very much a product of its time. It’s full of Seventies zeitgeist—politics, paranoia, and the tail end of the hippie craze. The failed promise of Flower Power imbues the proceedings like the fading stench of patchouli.

The performances are excellent. Jeff Bridges is a natural as Bone (or, at least, he makes it seem that way). John Heard almost steals the show in his explosive depiction of Cutter. It’s almost painful to watch him rave, as if he were flaying his own skin before you. Lisa Eichhorn puts in a top-notch performance, imbuing Mo with the right combination of frustration, anger, desire, and pathos.

I won’t tell you how it turns out. Trust me when I say, not well. And not definitively.

This is truly a 70s movie. Right up to its ambiguous, open-ended finish. God, I hate that.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of a neat resolution, the sheer pace and tension of what leads to the ending is enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen.

I should mention also that the title Cutter and Bone came from the novel from which this movie was adapted. I haven’t read the book, but it does seem fitting in retrospect.

Yes, the acting was that good! And the harshness of the message was lightened only slightly by the occasional little Lebowski aside by Yours Truly. 🙂


Directed by Ivan Passer
Produced by Paul R. Gurian
Screenplay by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin

This entry was posted in 1980s Films, Drama, Mystery, Neo-Noir and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Review of ‘Cutter’s Way’ (1981)

  1. Paul says:

    Good review! I’ve never seen this movie, but if it featured Jeff Bridges playing a beach bum (of course!), it sounds as if he got a head-start on playing The Dude long before the Coen brothers cast him in The Big Lebowski. 🙂

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