Director: Matt Shakman
MPAA Rating: R
Outside of being known as “the coldest spot in the nation,” there doesn’t seem to be much else going on in the sleepy town of Cut Bank, Montana. It’s the sort of small town where everyone may know your name, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they really know who you are. It’s the sort of town where news travels fast, especially when you’re trying to keep things quiet.
Director Matt Shakman has assembled a cadre of actors, many of whom have won or have been nominated for Academy Awards, to breathe life into Patino’s characters. Bruce Dern is stellar as the local postman, Georgie Wits, a man who would smile to your face but would flip you off once your back is turned. Oliver Platt plays D.C. postal inspector Joe Barrett and delivers an amusing performance as a perplexed paper pusher. John Malkovich plays the town sheriff, dripping with black humor.
Cut Bank is a town where old ladies bake pies for the mailman, where beauty pageants are one of the town’s biggest events and where the days can move at a snail’s pace. It’s no wonder that Dwayne McLaren wants to grab his girlfriend and get out of town for bigger, greener pastures. Yet getting out seems impossible until Dwayne and girlfriend Cassandra witness a horrific event that could be their ticket out of Cut Bank…or so they hope.
After many years working in television, Shakman makes his feature film directorial debut with this entertaining, twisting, darkly comic, genre-blending thriller of a movie. Shakman does a noble job of balancing the tones of the picture. In one moment you may find yourself chuckling and then the next…grimacing in horror.
With the lone exception of the film’s denouement, he handles the transitions without tripping up or allowing the story to go too far in one direction. Roberto Patino, also from a television background, has written a screenplay that features so many interesting, eccentric and peculiar characters that viewers might think they have stepped into the Coen brothers’ universe. And thanks to the great cinematography of Ben Richardson, who also shot Beasts of the Southern Wild, we are given insight into the look and feel of what a Cut Bank summer must be.
Teresa Palmer and Liam Hemsworth fair well as Cassandra and Dwayne, respectively, but Hemsworth, shines on screen, especially in a dramatic confession to his invalid father. Palmer plays a typical damsel in distress with a complementary performance by Billy Bob Thornton, who plays her ornery father (and Dwayne’s boss). But stealing the film is Michael Stuhlbarg, star of the Coens’ A Serious Man. He plays the town recluse, Derby Milton, and is frequently funny, unnerving and sometimes frightening in his portrayal.
Shakman has made a solid feature film directorial debut with Cut Bank, and the mixing of genres proved to be rather enjoyable. One minute you’re laughing at the silliness of an interaction and then your jaw drops as it explodes into unexpected violence.
The characters are quite memorable, especially that of Derby Milton, but I struggle with the ending, which felt too neat, too tidy and too “Hollywood.” Nevertheless, it’s still a diverting 90-minute ride that’ll keep you guessing as to just where it’s all heading even if its conclusion doesn’t live up to what preceded it.