After repeatedly seeing a preview at the beginning of multiple movies for “Cut Bank,” a mystery thriller with a promising cast that includes John Malkovich, I decided to succumb to target marketing and check it out. The tale of a fraudulent caper gone awry with a cast of quirky small-town yokels, it ended up being fairly derivative, but at least it was derivative of good stuff.
In the small town of Cut Bank, Montana, Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth) and Cassandra (Teresa Palmer), the two most conspicuously attractive young people for miles, long to escape, but Dwayne’s ill father requires depressing and constant care. Fortune perversely smiles upon them when Dwayne, recording Cassandra’s routine for a beauty pageant, witnesses the murder of the town’s cantankerous mailman (Bruce Dern). His video, capturing the mailman’s death, is therefore worth a huge reward from the Feds. How convenient.
Sheriff John Malkovich is a pious straight shooter who blanches when someone takes the Lord’s name in vain and throws up every time he sees a dead body. The murder of the mailman is the first the town has ever seen, but it proves not to be the last.
A squirrelly, stammering shut-in, whose name was not Boo Radley but might as well have been, suffered the loss of a package when the entire mail truck went missing along with its murdered driver. This is an unexpected collateral effect for the rather hapless criminals, and Boo Radley employs surprising strength and resources to find his parcel, which is, of course, totally weird and random.
When a cast of weirdos start killing one another, one cannot help but think of the Coen brothers. They wrote the book on small-town noir like this, and the presence of a Coen brother’s leading man, Michael Stuhlbarg, further emphasizes the similarities. Of course he wears a deer-stalker hat and is obsessed with taxidermy. Of course his murders are grisly and carried out with unusual weapons. Of course there’s a freaky basement. Sometimes, unfortunately, the closer a comparison is, the worse the copy looks.
“Cut Bank” also has splashes of “Twin Peaks,” with a small-town murder, a guileless sheriff, Native Americans and a big city government man with a taste for the local baked goods. The always delightful Oliver Platt shows up to give Dwayne his huge government check, and it’s impossible not to think of Special Agent Dale Cooper when Platt expresses enthusiasm for the peach cobbler.
While lacking the complexity of the greater works it clearly admires, “Cut Bank” is a serviceable adventure with some genuine surprises. We don’t get to enjoy as many Malkovich performances as we used to, and he was good in this as the straight hero type, unlike the sinister, sneering villain he so often portrays. If your old VHS tape of “Blood Simple” is too worn out, you might want to give this knockoff a try.
“Cut Bank” is currently available to rent.