Sunday, February 11, 2018

Bad Day for the Cut (2017)

Warning: I’m going to disclose elements of the film’s ending below!

Aging Irish farmer Donal (Nigel O’Neill) lives with his mother (Stella McCusker) on the farm she bought when he was still a kid. Donal clearly isn’t a terribly happy man, without friends or lovers, with that air of dissatisfaction and disconnection that comes with this sort of thing. One night, while Donal’s in the shed sleeping off a couple of beers, someone breaks into the farmhouse and murders his mother. Donal sees one of the two killers well enough to give a decent description, but there doesn’t really seem to be too much of a police follow up. A bit later, two – this time masked – men break in again, this time aiming to murder Donal while making it look like a suicide.

Because these guys aren’t exactly oozing competence, Donal manages to fight them off, killing one of them. The farmer’s not going to bother with the police this time around, apparently, and interrogates the surviving attacker, a very young Pole named Bartosz (Józef Pawloski), himself. The thing is, Bartosz is far from being a professional killer, and has been pressed into service with a threat to the life of his sister whom the people he is working for have enslaved as a prostitute. Donal’s got a heart, so he decides to join forces with Bartosz working his way up the totem pole of criminals to find out who killed his mother and gave the orders to kill him, and rescuing the kid’s sister. Later, the question of why Donal’s mother was killed will become increasingly important, too.

As always with this kind of set-up, one could argue that Chris Baugh’s film does lack in originality. I’d say that originality really isn’t the big point of Bad Day for the Cut. This is a film seeking and finding nuances in its vengeance tale, and saying something about circles of violence as a whole and the one repeating itself in Ireland again and again. It is also a film that does avoid the typical endings of its genre. Neither is its protagonist going to ride off triumphantly into the sunset once his deed is done, nor is he bleeding to death while clasping the throat of his enemy. Instead, he’s sitting, helpless, sad, on a beach, full of guilt and indirectly with innocent blood on his hands, having seen and done too much, unable to decide on the way to proceed. Further violence will only be another turn of the same old wheel, but what’s left otherwise? All of which, obviously, isn’t only the question Donal has to ask himself but also the film talking about Ireland after the Troubles, itself somewhat helpless in front of the question how a society can proceed after a low level civil war that has gone on for as long anyone alive can remember, and – depending on one’s interpretation – had been going on for much, much longer before that.

While this may sound as if Bad Day for the Cut were a rather po-faced and tragic affair, it is actually an unexpected and highly effective mixture of tones: there certainly is the sadness and tragedy of the film’s background (this not being the kind of film that finds dead parents to be terribly funny), as well as the grittiness of its violence, but there’s also a line of dry and very dark humour running through the film. Bad Day is very conscious of the absurd and awkward aspects of violence, and even though it is not one that tends to turn its acts of violence into actual slapstick, it does treat them with a grim sense of humour that is not so much meant to lighten what’s going on but to put it on human feet. We humans are, after all, rather absurd creatures.

Baugh’s direction treats everything with a high degree of clarity. It’s a style one is tempted to call straightforward, but once you start really looking at the film, you realize Baugh is doing much to support, enhance and strengthen his film’s mood as well as its point. He only does so in a way which never points itself out, a method I enjoy nearly as much as the style as substance approach of the giallo.

Which is something that could be said about the acting too: there’s a lot of unspoken subtext to Nigel O’Neill’s performance, for example, just presented, like the rest of the film, with the lack of grand gestures that makes this tale as effective and complex as it actually is. The only one among the actors going a bit bigger is Susan Lynch, whose Frankie Pierce does seem to owe quite a bit to Joe Pesci; however, with Frankie, going slightly larger than life actually makes sense.

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