Waking Up in a World That Someone Else Owns: A Love Letter to Cutter’s Way

Josh Olson is an American screenwriter and director, perhaps best known for his Academy Award-nominated screenplay for 2005′s A History of Violence. Here, Josh explains his love for 1981′s Cutter’s Way, re-released in cinemas on Friday 24 June, opening at London’s BFI Southbank as part of the venue’s Jeff Bridges retrospective.

John Heard and Jeff Bridges in Cutter's Way

John Heard and Jeff Bridges in Cutter's Way

I need to start with some disclosure – I have a crap memory, and I haven’t seen Cutter’s Way in many years. The other day, my girlfriend asked me what movie I’d gone to see this weekend – a mere two days earlier – and I had to stop and think about it before I could come up with the title.

But Cutter’s Way is one of those movies I don’t forget, no matter how many holes my Swiss cheese brain contains. I was fortunate enough to see it in theaters. Siskel and Ebert’s Sneak Previews had recently gone national, and they were great champions of small, little-seen films. They turned me on to such gems as Chan Is Missing, Return of the Secaucus Seven, and, of course, Cutter’s Way.

As a teen, I would often spend a Saturday at a local multiplex in West Philly, buying a ticket for one movie, then sneaking into two or three more. I know two things – the ticket I bought that day was for Cutter’s Way (even then, I knew to support the underdog), and I have no idea what the other movies I saw were.

The film hit me like a bomb. I’d certainly seen plenty of genre movies that smuggled angry politics into them before, but something about Cutter just nailed me. It absolutely works as a great crime film, one of the few modern noirs that doesn’t pay homage to genre, but actually engages and extends it.

John Heard in Cutter's Way

John Heard in Cutter's Way

The performances at its heart – Jeff Bridges, Lisa Eichorn, and John Heard – are so powerful that when I think about them, it usually takes a moment to remember they’re characters in a movie I’ve seen, and not people I used to know. As good as everyone else is, Heard is volcanic; he’s nuclear. This should have been the birth of a star, and to this day, I don’t know why it wasn’t.

I’m not knocking the others, either. Heard’s part on the page must have been a knockout; it’s definitely the choice part. Eichorn and Bridges do an amazing job of keeping everything together while Heard rampages through the film with the rage that comes from waking up in a world that somebody else owns, to quote Bruce Springsteen.

That rage drives the movie. Alex Cutter is one of the angriest characters you’ll see in a movie, but it’s not tiring. It’s not exhausting. His rage is exhilarating. It’s hilarious. It’s engaging. It’s right.

Like I said, it’s been years since I’ve seen the film, but if you put a gun to my head, I could probably do a pretty good job of recreating his speech about apathy word for word. It’s a stunning monologue. I don’t know if it comes originally from Newton Thornburg’s novel, or Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s script, or some amalgam of both, but I’ve never heard the human condition laid out so artfully, and with such power. It’s funny ‘cuz it’s true, as they say.

I could go on for hours, but I won’t. You need to see this movie for yourself to realize I’m not over-selling it. Besides, I’m hungry. (And the only way that sign-off will make a lick of sense to you is if you hustle your ass off to see Cutter’s Way as soon as possible.)

Watch Josh Olson discuss Cutter’s Way on the Trailers from Hell website.

To find out where Cutter’s Way is screening near you visit www.backincinemas.com

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