Featuring: Sullivan Stapleton, Alex Russell, Jessica De Gouw
Director: Tony Ayres
Writer: Blake Ayshford
Movie website: au.eonefilms.com/films/cut-snake
Australian release date: Thu 24 Sep
Verdict: Starts as a tense crime drama that builds promisingly, then abruptly collapses into excruciating melodrama.
Like many crime thrillers, this new Australian release begins promisingly, delivers quite some way in, then abruptly hits that “oh no” moment where the wheels begin to wobble.
Sometimes a bit of rattle and shake is correctable, but all too often the whole shebang veers off track and bumps along to a miserable end in the ditch. In the case of Cut Snake, it’s worse than that – what starts as a tense-as-hell and well managed thriller ends up as an excruciatingly melodramatic, mangled write-off of a flick that has you wondering how stuff like this ever gets funded in the first place.
Lead actor Sullivan Stapleton is certainly not to blame. He’s the one quality constant throughout, but is unable to save the film on his own. He plays Pommie, a career crim and killer just released from years in the can, and infuses his character with a barely suppressed rage and threat of explosive violence that gives the film real edge in its first half. The time bomb within begins to tick when he looks up his old cellmate, Sparra (Alex Russell), whom he anticipates becoming his partner in crime, only to find that the lad’s gone straight, has a regular job, and is setting up house in a country town with his fiancée, Paula (Jessica De Gouw). Unwilling to let matters rest, Pommie insinuates himself into the couple’s lives, and sets out to draw Sparra back to the dark side.
Part of his strategy is to drive a wedge between the couple. The sexually charged cat-and-mouse games he plays with Paula, who is not entirely discouraging, make for gripping if uncomfortable viewing.
Turns out it is not only a partnership in crime that Pommie is seeking from Sparra – the revelation that the two were a little closer than mere cell mates is the dreaded “oh no moment” that sends the film into a death spin. The mean crim with lit fuse sputtering dangerously suddenly erupts with soppy declarations of love for Sparra, passionate kisses are exchanged, and be buggered if we’re not dropped into the middle of a yes-you-want-it/no-I-don’t melodrama that would not be out of place in a teen soapie, were it not for the machismo, shared gender and criminal past of the participants.
Alex Russell obviously struggles with the emotional response required of his character at this point (and when the emotional going gets tough with his fiancée), and this doesn’t help, but the fatal flaw is clearly in the writing. The finest of acting could not make up for the ludicrous direction the narrative takes.
As the story lurches from one catastrophe to the next, there are several opportunities to end it and put the whole damned mess out of its misery, but none are taken. Instead, the wreck of a narrative rolls over and over as everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into a ludicrously OTT action finale that finally and mercifully expires out of sheer exhaustion. It’s as if the writer is making it up as he goes, ever excited by the ideas he is coming up with, in the manner of a theatre arts group getting off on an improvisation exercise. Sheesh! Where’s a good editor when you need them?
There’s a lot of unfair criticism levelled at Australian movies, and I am loathe to add to it, but really, this is a stinker. The shame of it is that with more thought and discipline on the part of the writer and his accomplices – the director has to be included – they could have delivered on the promise of the earlier stages simply by hinting at the nature of the relationship between the male leads, rather than hybridising the piece into a love story. Way too much information to maintain the intrigue, chaps (as is too often the case in contemporary cinema). Take a lesson from Hitchcock: less is more. The movie was at its best as a psychological thriller and that should have remained the main game.
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