Cut Bank

In TV director Matt Shakman’s feature debut, the titular Montana hinterland proves an ideal setting for a Coen Brothers knockoff. A cheeky heartland noir, with a cast full of Coen alumni and a veteran of the TV version of Fargo in charge — what could possibly go wrong? Cut Bank‘s plot lumbers into motion with the unwittingly camcordered killing of a mailman (Bruce Dern), later eulogized squarely as “a nice man. Harmless. Canadian.” That’s par for the course with screenwriter Robert Patino’s dialogue, in which every try for a decorative flourish seems hopelessly yoked to blunt expository functionality. But it complements Shakman’s workaday directorial style, with the camera always pushing in to stress the importance of things. Expectedly, a scheme develops, employing abbreviated characters played by Liam Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, and John Malkovich. Only the latter, unvarnished and superb in the role of a modestly virtuous local sheriff, gives the movie any real shine. Worse, when not limping on the crutch of one homage, Cut Bank coasts squeakily in the wheelchair of another: A mannered Michael Stuhlbarg plays the town pariah-antagonist with a dash of Javier Bardem’s coldly purposeful killer in No Country for Old Men, a dollop of Stephen Root’s beleaguered outcast from Office Space, and a dearth of logic. It’s conceivable that Patino (who’s worked on Sons of Anarchy and the Prime Suspect reboot) and Shakman, otherwise no slouch, got a little claustrophobic in their transition from series to feature length. Were Cut Bank not a movie but a pilot, with room and inclination to grow, maybe it could seem like more than just a hasty mash-up.