‘Cut Bank’ spins into dark spi­ral

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR -

Aim­ing some­where be­tween Coen broth­ers ter­ri­tory and “Twin Peaks” and land­ing awk­wardly in the realm of self-con­scious neonoir, “Cut Bank” is filled with small-town quirk­i­ness and pro­pelled by a ris­ing body count.

At the pur­ported cen­ter of the thriller is a young cou­ple ea­ger to leave the tit­u­lar Mon­tana town in the rearview mir­ror. But with the likes of John Malkovich, Oliver Platt, Bruce Dern and Michael Stuhlbarg dig­ging into pulpy char­ac­ter turns, the movie be­longs to ev­ery­one but the Cal­i­for­nia-dreamin’ duo.

Aussies Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer are con­vinc­ingly Amer­i­can as Dwayne and Cas­san­dra, yet their roles are generic. That’s es­pe­cially so of his bland schemer, who sets the plot in mo­tion but never feels part of the drama.

The big-screen de­but of TV direc­tor Matt Shak­man (“It’s Al­ways Sunny in Philadel­phia”) and writer Roberto Patino (“Sons of An­ar­chy”) re­volves around a mur­der that Dwayne hap­pens to catch on video. Be­cause the dead man is a fed­eral em­ployee, Dwayne’s ev­i­dence could land him a “life­time sum” of a re­ward. Cue the ar­rival of Platt’s gov­ern­ment in­spec­tor and the req­ui­site ur­ban-ru­ral cul­ture clash, in­fused with wellplayed hu­mor.

Por­trayed with mag­nif­i­cent un­der­state­ment by Malkovich, the lo­cal sher­iff is on the case, even though he gets phys­i­cally ill at the sight of a corpse. Cas­san­dra’s hu­mor­less fa­ther (Billy Bob Thorn­ton) has his sus­pi­cions too, while reclu­sive taxi­der­mist Derby Mil­ton (a trans­formed Stuhlbarg) does his own sleuthing.

How­ever good the ac­tors, Derby’s hor­ror show of a back story, like the sher­iff’s more pro­saically poignant one, reg­is­ters only as writerly con­coc­tion. Patino’s flights of high-flown lan­guage are both tasty and dis­tract­ing; Dern, in ul­tra­crusty mode, makes the most of a cru­cial tirade. If only any­thing felt at stake in this story’s dark spi­ral.

— Sheri Lin­den

“Cut Bank.” MPAA rat­ing: R for vi­o­lence and lan­guage. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 33 min­utes. Play­ing: At Sun­dance Sun­set Cine­mas, West Hol­ly­wood.

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