(director: Ivan Passer; screenwriters: Jeffrey Alan Fiskin/based on the novel Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg; cinematographer: Jordan Cronenweth; editor: Caroline Biggerstaff; music: Jack Nitzsche; cast: Jeff Bridges (Richard Bone), John Heard (Alex Cutter), Lisa Eichhorn (Maureen Cutter), Ann Dusenberry (Valerie Duran), Stephen Elliott (J.J. Cord), Nina Van Pallandt (Woman in the Hotel), Arthur Rosenberg (George Swanson), Patricia Donahue (Mrs. Cord); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Paul R. Gurian; MGM Home Entertainment; 1981)

Paranoid crime thriller.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Czech-born director Ivan Passer (“Intimate Lighting”/”Born to Win”/”Crime and Passion”) directs this paranoid crime thriller, his best American movie, that turns out to be much more ambitious than that, as it points its finger at American tycoons who rape the country and start wars for profit and get away with it without even getting a scratch because ‘it’s never their ass on the line’ but always some other poor schnook’s. It’s based on the novel Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg and unevenly written by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin. It was panned upon its release, but has since received high praise and has become a cult favorite.

It’s set in wealthy Santa Barbara, California, where pretty boy beach bum Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) lives an aimless runaround bachelor’s life as a gigolo and lives and pals around with crippled and one-eyed embittered loud-mouth manic boozer Vietnam vet Alex Cutter (John Heard) and his depressed boozer wife Mo Cutter (Lisa Eichhorn). Coming home late one rainy night, Bone’s green convertible stalls in a dark alley and he’s nearly run over by a guy fleeing the scene in a hurry that he notices is wearing sun glasses. The next morning Bone is questioned by police, as he learns a 17-year-old high school cheerleader was found stuffed in a trash-can after raped and slain in that very same alley. The next day at a fiesta parade, Bone recognizes the driver as fat cat oil tycoon J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliott), who is riding a horse at the parade. But with not enough evidence to go to the police, Cutter becomes obsessed with getting the Velcro tycoon, who has done plenty of dirty things but nothing sticks to him. The crazed Cutter, missing a leg and much in the same way as Melville’s Ahab was obsessed with the whale, lives only to catch the symbolic leviathan oil man. The boys team up with the vic’s vacuous older sister, Valerie Duran (Ann Dusenberry), and the nutty Cutter cooks up an amateur plan to blackmail Cord and then turn him over to the police. Bone wants no part of this plan, but gets pushed into it as things begin to get out of hand.

An acrimonious film about citizen heroes, nightmares, and unlikely friendships that shows the unlikable Cutter using the unlikable Cord as an opportunity to get back at the establishment for sending him off to get crippled in an unjust war; while the unlikable Bone eventually sees that getting the goods on Cord as his chance to wake up from his listless slumber and to put his wasted life back together.

As a character study and mood piece, it sings the blues for a lost generation that finds the world is indifferent to those who suffer serious injustices and are trapped by their own personal failures. It’s onto something, but never fully connects as it can’t get past its sweeping generalizations about the rich and the disenfranchised. Yet it’s intriguing and well-acted, and worth a look. Though all the female characters are undeveloped; while the male leads are reduced to being the loveless casualties of a society that’s perpetually at war.