Sparra Farrell (Alex Russell) is living an idyllic lifestyle with a new job, a new house and beautiful soon-to-be wife, Paula (Jessica De Gouw). Just as things appear to be going well for them both, their life is interrupted by the arrival of Sparra’s old friend, Pommie (Sullivan Stapleton), an ex-con fresh out of prison and a link to Sparra’s secretive past.
As Pommie ingratiates himself into their life, they find themselves unable to get rid of him, at first out of politeness, and then later out of fear. Pommie exerts a hold over Sparra that cannot be shaken. As events begin to spiral out of control, Sparra finds himself drawn back into the criminal life he thought he had left behind.
Tony Ayres’ Cut Snake is an Australian crime drama, taking place in 1970s Melbourne. It does a good job with a fairly formulaic plotline and the period setting is convincing and authentically detailed. To its credit, Cut Snake broaches characterization and the interplay between the three leads with some originality, but the story itself ultimately plays out rather predictably, with little by way of surprise. Pommie’s stubborn refusal to be either politely or forcefully ejected from Sparra’s life is straight out the Max Cady (Cape Fear) playbook, and as favours turn into obligations both men are launched onto a trajectory that’s easy to see coming.
The performances are uniformly very good, although there are moments when the central relationships strain believability a little. Alex Russell acquits himself well as Sparra, credible as a quiet, brooding, working man, yet not quite so much when called upon to be the tough guy. Jessica De Gouw is suitably enchanting as Paula, and makes the most of what finally boils down to a by-the-numbers spouse role.
The standout is Sullivan Stapleton’s excellent turn as Pommie, portraying a man defined by seething anger. Exuding menace, Stapleton manages to elevate a character that begins as a stereotype, but is later revealed to have a reserve of underlying complexity.
As something of an aside, it will be interesting to watch how well the movie fares in Australia and whether the homegrown crime genre is exempt from the domestic lethargy that meant two cracking Australian pictures released in 2014 – The Babadook and Wyrmwood – sunk without trace until interest from abroad revived them.
Cut Snake is a decent, thoroughly watchable movie, but in the wake of some exceptional domestic crime dramas of recent years, finds itself in some fairly rich company. It’s no Animal Kingdom or Snowtown, but what we do have here is a solid crime story that will keep you involved for its duration but is unlikely to stay with you much longer outside the cinema.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10