Cut Snake (2014)
If you’re familiar with the phrase ‘mad as a cut snake’— anger or fury so extreme, that one would deliberately avoid the enraged — you’d already have an inkling of what to expect from this new Australian crime-drama from Matchbox Picture’s Tony Ayres. After producing ground-breaking Aussie television such as The Slap (2011) and Underground: The Julian Assange Story (2012), Tony Ayres returns to the directing chair with Cut Snake, a passion project which Ayres has nurtured into a feature film after many years of re-writes and preparation.
Set in suburban Melbourne, Australia, in the mid-1970’s, Cut Snake focuses on the strictly private Merv, (Alex Russell), a man of very little words and modest ambitions, trying to make an honest life for himself and his soon-to-be wife, Paula (Jessica de Gouw), who knows little of his unknown past. With a looming apprenticeship in his grasp, Merv is working hard to pay for the pair’s pleasant, semi-isolated, new home, which overlooks the Australian bush land, and apart from the occasional night out with Paula’s single friend Yvonne (Megan Holloway), everything seems set for the straight and narrow. That is, until Pommie (Sullivan Stapleton), a man from Merv’s former life — with murky objectives and a taste for violence — tracks him down and shows up, hell-bent on weaseling his way back into Merv’s world. It turns out that Merv — who Pommie nicknamed ‘Sparra’ — served some time in a Sydney prison, and his cellmate Pommie has now returned, expecting Sparra to make good on an old promise he made while confined. With his criminal history concealed from Paula, Sparra is forced to fight in order to keep his troubled past from ruining his prosperous future.
While this simple premise sounds somewhat familiar, Ayres’ bold return to filmmaking ingeniously twists the old formula on its head, thanks to an edgy screenplay by Blake Ayshford, Devil’s Playground (2014), which echoes real life events involving the Brisbane underworld back in the 1970’s. Director Ayres seems to be on top of things for the most part as he skillfully turns genre conventions upside-down and mixes his artier inclinations into this noir picture, keeping proceedings interesting and nerve-rackingly fresh; still, the film isn’t without its occasional moments of conventional melodrama. What’s more, Ayshford’s credible script considers aspects of criminal relations rarely explored onscreen as Cut Snake — being part crime story and part love story — ventures into dynamic unfamiliar territory once it takes flight. Ayres sadly loses some of his footing when exploring the criminal component of the picture, opposed to the character element, as he doesn’t seem at ease when dealing with illicit behavior or snarling detectives, hurting some of the screenplay’s plausibility.
Cut Snake is truly elevated by Sullivan Stapleton, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), who delivers a powerhouse central performance as Pommie — although portraying a rather prototypical Aussie Bogan thug in the vein of Chopper (2000). Radiating with menace and buried vulnerability, Stapleton never overacts; instead, he successfully plummets into the shadowy depths of Pommie’s psyche, bringing to life a remarkable personality, capable of snapping at any given moment. Stapleton’s intimidating, yet compelling, act is aided by composer Cornel Wilczek’s, These Final Hours (2013), ominous score, constantly beating alongside Pommis’s impulsive actions. Alex Russell, Chronicle (2012) also delivers as the affable, hard-working, Sparra, who is rapidly thrust back into the life of crime by Pommie — threatening to expose Sparra’s closest guarded secrets. Russell convincingly balances his character’s complexity, his softer side and more ferocious persona, coming to light as tension rises and his world comes crashing down around him. Furthermore, Stapleton and Russell share a wonderful onscreen chemistry, which is particularly important given the film’s subject matter, urging the actors to explore some brutal truths regarding their character’s realities; truths that other thrillers merely hint at. In addition, Jessica de Gouw, These Final Hours (2013), adds a girlish touch to the mucho undertakings, gelling well alongside her co-stars Russell and Stapleton, although Paula is moderately underdeveloped, acting solely as a third party to the picture’s curious love triangle.
The 70’s inspired production design by Josephine Ford, The Rover (2014), locations, soundtrack and lively costumes by Cappi Ireland, Animal Kingdom (2010), lend the picture a visual hand — almost becoming a spectacle within the film itself — remaining rich and vibrant throughout, yet never hindering the narrative’s overall development. In this diverse era, Tony Ayres’s darkly romantic Cut Snake is different kind of picture, as this absorbing cinematic endeavor generally succeeds thanks to its magnetism, surprising homoerotic twist, and rising stars; with Stapleton, Russell and de Gouw leading this courageous effort, Cut Snake is a gripping and dangerous noir-flavored genre flick, featuring an ensemble of the most exciting new talent coming out of Australia.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Cut Snake is released through eOne Films Australia