Short Cuts (1993)

Short Cuts (1993)
  • Time: 187 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Robert Altman
  • Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Robert Downey Jr., Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore


While helicopters overhead spray against a Medfly infestation a group of Los Angeles lives intersect, some casually, some to more lasting effect. Whilst they go out to concerts and jazz clubs and even have their pools cleaned, they also lie, drink, and cheat. Death itself seems never to be far away, even on a fishing trip.

One comment

  • Ensemble cast movies have been proven to be both great and terrible ideas. There are plenty examples of movies that represent both ends of the spectrum. Of this particular type of casting, the most familiar are movies that have intertwining story lines that overlay in some fashion. Initially the plot threads feel a bit out of place and non-related, but in due time they all end up crossing paths and lead to some kind of climax. This kind of execution isn’t always the case, but it is more or less the one that is frequently used. Examples of nonlinear story telling would be like V/H/S (2012), V/H/S/2 (2013), V/H/S Viral (2014) and Movie 43 (2013). This is where the stories are fragmented and made into shorts instead of an actual feature length product. The movies that have a more interwoven storyline are works like Crash (2004) and Reach Me (2014). But it wasn’t just the start of the 21rst century that screenwriters had come up with this concept.

    Back in 1993, avant-garde director Robert Altman decided to take a crack at it. The end result was this movie. Based on the writings by Raymond Carver (the same writer to that of Birdman (2014) was based off of) and adapted by Altman and another writer, this movie focuses on the lives of several couples living in Los Angeles. As simple as this sounds, these collaborative threads that make up the film are not very exciting. What truly works in favor for the viewer are the more technical elements. Cinematography by Walt Lloyd (The Santa Clause (1994)) is adequate. Several of Lloyd’s shots contain accurate background scenery to L.A. and anything around that has clear lighting. The music composed by Mark Isham is easy going too. Isham as a composer who tends to create music that is more aesthetic than engaging, yet for this score it has all the cool jazz sounds using the double bass and other jazz instruments. It’s almost like a precursor towards Christopher Lennertz style,…almost.

    Lastly is the acting by all cast members. They can act and they do a great job at making the viewer feel the appropriate way for their roles. Sadly, the problem is their roles. This is where unfortunately so many things go wrong. The cast to this movie is enormous. You have Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr., Madeleine Stowe, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Lyle Lovett, Huey Lewis, Robert DoQui, the list goes on and only a couple of the characters this entire list play are sympathetic or likable to some degree. This is actually quite a frustrating watch. Almost no character has respect for anyone or anything. This is not to say that the characters were intentionally written to be mean spirited, but the attitudes portrayed just make the viewing experience feel entirely hateful.

    In some cases as well, the characters act very strange. Sometimes they don’t care how foul their mouth is around other people. One character is a mother who makes a living by making phone-sex calls and she does this from while she takes care of her babies. That’s just wrong. Another individual cheats on her husband and has no problem cursing him out in front of her son. How careless. Robert Altman as a director has been known to push boundaries but there are some points that even he should find questionable. It’s understood that people in general take on different personalities during different times of the day and some activities diverge a lot further from others but some are just beyond uncomfortable. My question is, what is supposed to be taken away from this viewing? What is the message specifically? Life is what you make it? Life does not always end happily for everyone? What? The list of questions can go on and on because of how little clarity there is in the film’s screenplay.

    The only credit that can be given to the writers is the connectivity they give each storyline. At some point or another each thread will cross one another and it’s interesting to see who knows who. That’s it though, not even all subplots are or feel properly concluded the right way. There’s something going on in L.A. about some MEDfly and the air is being crop dusted and people think they’ll get cancer; but that goes nowhere. With that, there is very little buildup to the climax of this three hour movie. Worse yet is that this movie is three hours long and couldn’t develop its characters in some fashion to make them likable or at least make them realize how destructive they’re behaviors are. Suzy Elmiger and Geraldine Peroni who work as the editors don’t do a good job either. Some scenes pertaining to a certain thread last all of a quick 10-20 seconds long and it transitions to another. That’s quicker than the editing in Reach Me (2014). It’s unfortunate that it feels this poor.

    Aside from its acting, camerawork and music, nothing else is worth it here. Almost all characters are unlikable, of which most of their behaviors are uncomfortably strange and their development feels somewhat nonexistent. The script also suffers from unfinished subplots, annoying editing and a long running time.

    Points Earned –> 3:10

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *