Film Review

Short Cuts

Take one master of the American short story, Raymond Carver, take one master of American cinema, Robert Altman, and take one star of the American screen (Andie McDowell), and surely you have a recipe for success. Ha ha, no, pitiful humans, for reasons I shall shortly divulge.

Robert Altman is a highly respected director for reasons I cannot fathom, unless any American director who somehow, against all the odds, manages to make a film that’s not about some teenagers spunking into a CGI pie, instantly becomes revered as credible. Could it be, could it be? Anyway 'Short Cuts' is anything but, weighing in at over 3 hours, and is so long and dull that I haven’t even bothered to finish watching it yet, so this is not a fair review, when have goblins ever been fair? It is loosely based, as suggested above, by a handful of Raymond Carver stories, woven together by highly skilful means er, like all the characters live in the same town and occasionally bump into each other at the bar and stuff like that.

Tim Robbins plays a policeman who is apparently on heat all the time, and, despite being Tim Robbins and having exactly the same hair he has in every single film ever that makes him look like Terry Christian, manages to have his wicked way with Frances McDormand and probably every other female character in the film. As if! Get your clothes back on, Terry!

terry christian

I have always thought Julianne Moore to be a very fine actress, who bravely goes places most actors would not care to go, and her performance in this film is no exception, as she gets her muff out and, I must stress this, ALL IN THE INTERESTS OF ART. It seems like some trimming went on in preparation for this daring scene, and the effect is not unlike the beards on one of the US’s more successful guitar rock bands. It’s been a while since I read Raymond Carver, so I took the trouble to remind myself of this particular scene.

‘She went into the living room and turned on the lamp and bent to pick up a magazine from the floor. He watched her hips under the plaid woollen skirt. She moved in front of the window and stood looking out at the streetlight. She smoothed her palm down over her skirt, then began tucking in her blouse. He wondered if she wondered if he were watching her.’
'Will You Please Be Quiet Please?' by Raymond Carver.

‘Will you please be quiet please?’ is a great short story, where a couple's intimacy is devastatingly shattered by a gradual admission of infidelity by the wife. The tension is slowly and carefully built up. It’s the fucking biz in other words, read it for yourself. In ‘Short Cuts’, this tension is replicated by the husband beginning the encounter by shouting ‘Honey, we need to talk about US’ and the wife throwing a glass of wine over herself, thus smoothly necessitating full frontal nudity.

I’m glad I took the trouble to reread this, as the film gave me the impression that the scene had been written:

‘She took off her skirt and turned to face him and squawk at him aggressively. He watched her orange muff as she was inexplicably wearing nothing under her skirt. She turned round so the camera could get a shot of her butt, then turned back round again. He wondered if the thing between her legs was going to start singing ‘Gimme all your lovin’’.

julianne moore with zz top between her legs

There are plenty of irritating characters in this, like the angst ridden cellist who commits suicide at least twice, and eventually seems to be managing by sitting in a garage filling with carbon monoxide while playing the fucking cello! Allegro, molto allegro!

The real irritating show stealer (as in pretty much every film I can think of) however, is Andie McDowell. She plays the mother of a child who is injured in a hit and run accident, goes into a coma, and eventually dies. Spoiler alert, sorry. ‘Casey, wake up’ she bleats (Casey and audience slip futher into coma) ‘C’mon little man, it’s mommy’ (Casey starts flatlining) ‘Caseeeyyy, wake up (zombified Casey wakes up and bites her face off). Her husband, bizarrely, looks like Jerry Springer, but that’s not important.

The most disgraceful thing about ‘Short Cuts’ is its sensationalist treatment of, and most arrogantly of all its ‘artistic’ license in adding to, Raymond Carver’s stories. In the stories, when the fishermen found the dead girl, they didn’t joke about shagging her corpse; when the baker rang the dying child’s mother about his birthday cakes, he didn’t sing sinister little rhymes down the phone like he was the masked killer in ‘Scream’. Raymond Carver somehow managed to find enough that was human and important in writing about relationships, alcoholism, death, the stress of working several jobs to make ends meet, without the dramatic device of Tim Robbins making a move on a woman in a clown costume.