The Coen Brothers have become the high mark in modern neo-noir, and most young filmmakers crafting dark crime tales look to them as a tonal touchstone to invigorate their own efforts. Cut Bank locates its characters in the eponymous Montana town that is known as the coldest spot in the United States, and it’s where Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth) and Cassandra (Teresa Palmer), young lovers who dream of leaving their small town for the endless possibilities of the big city, inadvertently catch a murder being committed in the background of a video they are shooting. Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich) and Cassandra’s father, Big Stan (Billy Bob Thornton), are soon drawn into the investigative proceedings for the first murder ever recorded in the town. Local postman, Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern), figures in the crime, and it’s the half-arsed plan that he’s set in motion that sees local psychotic recluse, Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg, of The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man), crawl out from under his rock to exhaustively (and violently) hunt for the “special” parcel that he was expecting to be delivered. The bodies soon pile up as Postal Service boss, Joe Barrett (Oliver Platt), arrives in town to join the investigation.
Director, Matt Shakman, strives for the unravelling nightmare of a “money bag” caper like A Simple Plan or Fargo, but falls short for several reasons, not least because the local flavour and importance of its eponymous town is never successfully conveyed, and the lead performers end up overwhelmed by the seasoned actors in support. Hemsworth has been good elsewhere, but here he fails to spark, with his character lacking weight and definition; perhaps another actor could’ve brought that, but for Hemsworth, it’s a Sisyphean task. This is due largely to Rodrigo Patino’s problematic script, which is a veritable homage-a-thon, most notably with Stuhlbarg’s terrifically creepy performance as Derby Milton, which feels like a blatant facsimile of No Country For Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. Shakman directed episodes of the Fargo TV series, which while speaking to his worthiness, also flags the influences to which he unsuccessfully aspired.