Review: Sullivan Stapleton’s coiled performance the best part of ‘Cut Snake’

Director Tony Ayres’ sweaty melodrama “Cut Snake” isn’t the most original thriller ever made, yet in one punchy way it’s feverishly, genre-shakingly different. That difference makes the movie almost work. Almost.

It’s mid-1970s Melbourne, Australia, and in quick succession we’re introduced to snarly, tattooed tough Jim Stewart (Sullivan Stapleton) and kind-faced Merv (Alex Russell), a cabinetmaker’s apprentice who’s just got engaged to his caring, beautiful girlfriend, Paula (Jessica De Gouw).

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When Jim surprises Merv at his place of work for an uneasy reunion, followed by dinner at Merv’s home, you’ll start writing the movie yourself: Jim’s a short-tempered ex-con, “Little Sparra” (as Jim calls Merv) never told Paula of his incarcerated past, and old criminal ways suddenly threaten a young man’s new life.

But there’s an emotional tweak to screenwriter Blake Ayshford’s tense triangle that breathes a bit of freshly eroticized air into this otherwise routine three-sided noir. It’s manifest in Stapleton’s magnetically coiled performance: As a hardened recidivist unsure whether his greatest persuasive weapon is violence or vulnerability, he’s a machismo character study all by himself.


The problem is that there’s the rest of the movie, which in terms of plot and motivation are an illogical mess that no amount of carefully moody cinematography can save.


“Cut Snake”

MPAA rating: R for violence, sexuality, language.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.