Cutter’s Way (1981) and Mikey and Nicky (1976)

19 12 2008

Although it wasn’t my intention, I ended up watching these two thematically linked thrillers back-to-back. Both quite easily transcend their genre tag by primarily focusing on the subject of friendship. In both cases, one character is seemingly crazy and the one who essentially brings the relationship to an end. The ever-looming plot devices are handled differently, but for the most part, the superficial “thriller” element is well-disguised.

Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way is definitely the most formally accomplished film, but maybe it was just because I watched it in HD. (!) It really isn’t anything at all like Intimate Lighting. The only similarity would be that the acting is similarly natural, but that is a bit of reach. Jeff Bridges is really great in this, though, and comes close enough to being a Antonioni-worthy protagonist. On the other hand, John Heard’s character is pretty much a cartoon. I’m sure that was the point since he has all the attributes of a modern day pirate, but I still couldn’t help but find him somewhat of an exaggeration. In retrospect, the story seems to have little interest in him anyway. He isn’t downplayed enough to become just a contribution to Bridges’ alienation, but he’s not really emphasized enough to feel like a real character. On the other hand, Lisa Eichhorn is really amazing as his wife. She definitely makes the Antonioni comparison an easier one to make. It’s really a shame that she doesn’t have more moments with Bridges as the few sequences they share alone are incredibly moving, probably the single best part(s) of the film.

Elaine May’s film, Mikey & Nicky, relies on a similar friendship complex as the one between Bridges and Heard in Cutter’s Way but has almost no problems whatsoever. Elaine May is credited for writing the screenplay, and she did so with Cassavetes and Falk in mind, but I’d venture to guess that a great deal of the film is improvised. Like a Cassavetes film from the same time period, this film seems to have a limitless amount of small poignant and heartbreaking moments. There’s really too many to mention, and doing so would probably ruin some of the film for those that haven’t seen it. The whole thing is so intimate and believable that the rather pedestrian story about a guy trying to escape from murder in the hands of a contract killer is one that seems slightly real. There isn’t “urgency” or whatever, as Falk and Cassavetes both get fairly drunk before hand, but there is this small sadness in everything they go through because it seems completely real and also because all signs point to tragedy.

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