Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tony Ayres
Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Alex Russell, Jessica De Gouw, Kerry Walker, Robert Morgan, Paul Moder, Brett Swain.
One of the few genres that Australian filmmakers tackle consistently well is the hard boiled crime noir. With Cut Snake Aussie director Tony Ayres (better known for his work on tv series The Slap, etc) attempts to make a smart Tarantinoesque noir like crime thriller, although the results are a little uneven. The film premiered at MIFF in 2014 and has taken over a year to reach local screens.
Written by tv writer Blake Ayshford (tv series Crownies, Devil’s Playground, etc) thirteen years ago this is a tense drama is set in Melbourne in the 70s. Cut Snake centres around Merv “Sparra” Farrell (Alex Russell, from Unbroken, etc) a former convict who has now gone straight. He is about to marry the beautiful Paula (Jessica De Gouw), who is unaware of his criminal past, when his past catches up with him in the form Pommie Stewart (Sullivan Stapleton), his former cellmate. Pommie has an intense and uneasy presence that makes Paula uncomfortable.
The first hints that there is something strange about Pommie comes when he treats the couple to a night out at a gay night club. Later that night Pommie tries to rob the night club. Then he tries to drag Sparra back into a life of crime and enlists his reluctant help in trying to burn the nightclub to the ground. Even worse, Pommie knows a couple of dark secrets about their relationship in prison that Sparra would prefer remain hidden.
Stapleton (who played a thug in Animal Kingdom) has been building up some solid credentials in Hollywood with a starring role in the action packed tv series Strike Back and a leading role in 300: Rise Of An Empire. He makes for a charismatic villain; he has a brooding quality and strong physical presence as the aggressive Pommie, and with his moustache and prison tattoos and he oozes the same sort of menace here that Eric Bana did in his breakthrough role in Chopper. Pommie is as dangerous as a cut snake, hence the title. Russell brings a vulnerability to his role as Sparra.
Cut Snake is something of a change of pace for Ayres, who is better known for emotional dramas like The Home Song Stories, etc, rather than gritty crime dramas. Ayres brings an edgy quality to the formulaic material and subverts some of the usual genre tropes, and he also manages to suffuse the film with some palpable sexual tension. Cinematographer Simon Chapman (who worked with Ayres on the tv series Nowhere Boys, etc) bathes the film in the gritty look and feel of the 70s with a washed out palette. Ayres captures the 70s vibe through the costumes, the hairstyles, the cars and the evocative soundtrack. But the climactic ending is fairly conventional and a little clumsily handled, and resembles an episode of popular 70s tv crime drama Homicide.