Cut Bank, Montana proudly boasts to be the coldest city in the United States. No doubt true in the winter, but the summer finds a completely different weather pattern, and the only thing cold in Cut Bank is the people.
Georgie (Bruce Dern) is long time mailman who has grown tired of his job and the people he sees. Thankfully, he is shot dead while delivering mail to the good folks of Cut Bank. Conveniently, Georgie’s murder is captured on video while Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth) tapes his girlfriend, Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) practicing her pageant routine. Even more convenient, there happens to be a $100,000 reward to anyone with evidence of the killing of a postal official! Well, well, well… But rather than raising any suspicions in town, the citizens of Cut Bank continues their life and work with out much notice until the pleasant, and oblivious, mail inspector (Oliver Platt) arrives.
The city of Cut Bank may be small, but the citizens are large, each one more so than the next. The chief of police, Vogel (John Malkovich), is a worn down and disaffected man who has spent too much time in Cut Bank and should have gotten out years ago. But then Vogel grimly tells Dwayne that he witnessed Cut Bank’s first out-and-out murder. You’d think with such a low crime rate, he’d be a nicer fellow. He’s not, and neither is anyone else in Cut Bank, least of all the stuttering psychopath, Derby (Michael Stuhlbarg) who lives by himself and shops from the Ed Gein catalog.
If all of that seems like too much, well settle in, because Cut Bank is just getting started. The mailman wasn’t killed, Dwayne was in on it, and it’s all a big plot to finagle $100,000 from the US Government and high tail it out of there to Los Angeles. Then the plan goes array, people start dying and the creepy psychopath really goes for broke.
Director Matt Shakman and screenwriter Robert Patino are at least smart enough to reveal Cut Bank’s convoluted plot in small doses, or in some instances, not at all (what the hell was Derby building in that diorama and why?), but the main problem with Cut Bank is that it tries to be far too many things. It wants to be The Coen Brothers. It wants to be David Lynch. It wants to be a detective story, but then it introduces a psychopath who pretty much steals the show. Then it reverts back to small town ways and people taking care of their own. All of these genres and inspirations blend together as seamlessly as oil and water and the bizarre line reading that Billy Bob Thornton and Malkovich deliver adds layers of confusion to an already confused screenplay.
If Cut Bank was done in a simpler manner, like a tight noir, then it might have worked nicely. If it was done with a couple of recasts, (maybe even making the detective character an outsider, rather than an insider) then it might have worked better as well. If it was done not at, it might have been best for all involved.