Some of the best crime dramas over the last decade have come out of Australia: Underbelly, its spin-offs Underbelly Files and Fat Tony and Co., Animal Kingdom. Now one can add Cut Snake to that list, as the post-prison thriller lands a solid punch to the gut led by another brutal performance from Sullivan Stapleton.
The gist is a familiar one: a young man released from prison, Sparra Farrell (Alex Russell), just wants to build a new life that has nothing to do with the sins of the past. But that’s not in the plans of his former cellmate, Pommie (Stapleton), who himself gets sprung and believes they can pick up as they left off. Not only does he jeopardize Sparra’s perfectly planned future, but the film calls into question who each of these men actually are – how much can they really leave behind?
Stapleton is a veteran of the genre by now, with starring roles in Animal Kingdom and Underbelly Files: Infiltration, and he moves through the film like a force of nature. Sparra’s trepidation at seeing Pommie is all the more palpable to the viewer because Stapleton can create that person that you absolutely don’t want to see on your doorstep. Yet underneath that, as he’s proven to be so great at, he shows that there is a human being under that persona. There’s a hurt and desperation that he plays which eventually make you feel for this character that you were once afraid of.
Being released just after the midseason finale of Blindspot, Cut Snake provides an opportunity for audiences who may only know Stapleton as straight-laced FBI agent Kurt Weller to see the full force of what this remarkable actor is capable of. Just like in the NBC series, he truly sinks his teeth into the character, but this time he’s headed in a much more ferocious direction.
Still, his performance would be wasted if Cut Snake didn’t surround him properly. Sparra is the heart of the story, and Russell injects him with an earnest appeal making his struggle totally believable. You understand why he’s worthy of love and obsession. Russell can also hold a scene opposite Stapleton, which is a must when the film is supposed to be about the bond between these two people.
The general plot is certainly nothing novel, but it doesn’t need to be when the film is carried by the committed performances of its two lead actors. It’s not about being surprised; it’s about being drawn into the emotional battleground between these two main characters, and wanting everyone to win when you know someone has to lose.
The film deserves its R rating as it pulls no punches content-wise, but more eye-opening than any of the violence or sexuality is just how raw the character interplay is. Everything else just illustrates the back and forth between past and present, old bonds and new ones, and right and wrong. Cut Snake is a tug of war between two different worlds and points of view, that threatens to rip not just Sparra but its audience apart – and it’s the kind of vastly rewarding picture that demonstrates the high quality of Australian cinema.
Cut Snake is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD through all major retailers.