77 Well-Spent Minutes

Main Cast: Michael O’Keefe and Michael A. Newcomer

Director: Charles Evered

A Thousand Cuts posterLance may be a hot director in Hollywood, but he’s a terrible human being. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe in the opening party scene of Charles Evered’s 2012 movie A Thousand Cuts.

We see Lance (Michael A. Newcomer, “Person of Interest”) push a hopeful screenwriter into the pool after telling said screenwriter to kill himself. We see Lance offer to pay off a woman’s college loans if she takes off her clothes. “No hanky panky,” he promises. He just wants to see her naked. We understand right away that this director of torture porn horror flicks, whose most famous series is the A Thousand Cuts trilogy, is not a good man.

Then the lights go out. Lance is annoyed, but mostly embarrassed at such a technical issue going wrong in HIS house. When they come back on, though, his annoyance has turned to irritation when he discovers someone has left a photo of his dead mother, with RIP written across it, attached to a sparkler on his lawn. Lance orders everyone out, and the party is over.

While looking around for his sister Melanie (Olesya Rulin, High School Musical), he finds someone in his yard. He tells the man the party is over, but the man turns out not to be a partygoer, but an electrician who tells Lance he merely had a blown fuse. It’s been replaced now, though.

Awesome, Lance says. Come inside and have a cold beer on me.

Lance shows the man, who claims not to be a screenwriter or actor and has generally no interest in movies, around his house, happy to be talking to someone who seems to want nothing from the jaded filmmaker.

The only problem is, Frank (Michael O’Keefe, Caddyshack), the electrician, actually does want something from Lance, which we, the audience, understood from the beginning when we saw Frank try to get into the party through the front door before being turned away and having to sneak onto the property instead.

What Frank wants is retribution. See, the Thousand Cuts series of films that have made Lance his fortune are built, the director says, on an ancient method of torture where the victim is kept alive through drugs while the torturer cuts them one thousand times. Several years earlier, after having seen Lance’s movie, a mentally disturbed man kidnapped Frank’s daughter and killed her in a method matching that found in Lance’s film.

Since then, Frank has blamed Lance. Lance, however, insists the man who killed Frank’s daughter was insane and was going to kill someone no matter what. It’s unfortunate the victim was Frank’s daughter, but that isn’t Lance’s fault.

Doesn’t matter, Frank says. Lance is going to man up, take the blame and kill himself, or Frank is going to kill Lance’s sister Melanie, whom he has kidnapped and hidden away somewhere. Melanie is the only thing in Lance’s life that has any meaning anymore, and this threat ensures Frank has his full attention.

A Thousand Cuts is an ambiguous movie. On the one hand, I understand we’re supposed to sympathize with Frank, whose daughter was taken from him in a very violent manner. As a father who loves his daughter very much, I totally see Frank’s side, and would likely want to blame the world if something happened to her. On the other hand, Lance is right; the man who killed Susan was a lunatic and he was going to kill someone no matter what.

I probably wouldn’t have put it so crudely as Lance does, telling Frank it was simply a matter of his daughter being in the wrong place at the wrong time–is that really what you tell the man who has your sister hidden away and is pointing a gun at you?–but I can see Lance’s point. Also, on Lance’s side, he’s a writer/director, I’m a writer, and I’ve written some pretty horrible events in my stories and novels, but I couldn’t see myself taking the blame if someone who wasn’t together enough to know the difference used one of my books as their own twisted inspiration. We’re all grown ups here, right? I don’t blame the comic companies when I spend more than I’d wanted to on New Comic Day every Wednesday. They don’t shove those comics in my hand. That’s a choice I make. Just as it’s a choice someone else makes if they read or see something violent and then go out and do something equally violent.

Then again, my daughter is my sweet-pea and I would go nuclear on anyone who had anything whatsoever to do with hurting her. So the viewer is left in this grey area where we’re not sure who in this movie is the hero and who is the villain?

Frank is torturing Lance over his daughter’s death, but Lance was just doing what creatives do: he created something. It’s an unfortunate thing that happened, but if every writer or director or musician or actor chose not to do something because someone else might take that idea and make it a horrible reality, there would be no arts. And what kind of world would that be?

What’s the solution?

I’m not sure we’re supposed to find a solution in this movie. At a mere 77 minutes, we’ve barely got time to digest the heaviness of the concept, let alone find any solid, concrete takeaways.

For me, I enjoyed A Thousand Cuts for what it was. I like short movies. I like movies that focus on one or two characters in one confined location. I could easily see this movie being performed on stage. The material would afford the right actors some big emotional moments, as it did for Newcomer and O‘Keefe, both of whom I thought did a fine job. This was certainly one of my favorite O’Keefe performances, but then I’ve always liked him anyway. As for Michael Newcomer, I had the feeling the part was written for someone like Jon Hamm, but Newcomer was more their budget. The resemblance at times here, though, was pretty easy to see.

A Thousand Cuts isn’t a flawless film. In the scene where Lance is handcuffed to the coffee table while Frank is elsewhere in the house torturing Melanie, Lance lays there, trying to break the table to get himself loose instead of just standing up and using the leverage to break the board he’s cuffed to. I know his feet are tied, but he’s not paralyzed. And it’s a COFFEE TABLE, not a bank vault. It can’t possibly be THAT heavy.

Also, earlier Frank tells Lance that Melanie is somewhere she doesn’t have a lot of air, insinuating he’s taken her away somewhere. But when he does go off to torture her in hopes of making Lance suffer, he just disappears into a back room of the house. So how come, when Lance did his sweep of the house earlier, looking for her, he didn’t find her then?

Finally, early on when Lance realizes Frank is dangerous and Frank pulls a gun, the two fight, Lance gets the gun away from the madman and knocks him out. Instead of holding the gun on him and calling the cops, Lance kicks the gun away, tapes Frank to a chair, and waits for him to wake up. Do the WHAT??? Yeah, I’m thinking KEEP the gun and call the cops would have been the first two things you do in that situation.

So obviously what we’re dealing with here is a plot built more for convenience than logic. That being said, I still dug the movie. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t perfect, but it was entertaining and Newcomer and O’Keefe kept me engrossed as I watched the story of these two unfold. I can recommend A Thousand Cuts as long as you know you’re not getting any sort of grand cinematic experience. Despite its party atmosphere beginnings, this is a solemn movie that focuses on just two characters for the bulk of its time while asking some pretty deep questions that, in my opinion, have no clear answers.

A Thousand Cuts (DVD)


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