Short Cuts

Short Cuts ★★★★

100 Greatest Directors Club

People ought to see Short Cuts before they see Magnolia. The latter was so heavily inspired by the former that it's no wonder Altman is seen by those in the know as a great innovator who rewrote the language of cinema - and it also explains why many of his innovations are attributed to those who owe him a great debt.

In Short Cuts, Altman takes a handful of short stories by author Raymond Carver which he works into an interconnected web of domestic drama, bringing to the fore his own penchant for social satire and unleashing the Pandora's box of emotions and troubles people strive to mask. Also, he teases the audience, much as he did in his earlier Nashville, by throwing in an unexplained act of explosive violence near the very end to make them question their own ideas of normality.

His ability to work with actors materialises here in some stunning performances from a dazzling range of stars in a striking variety of roles: Jack Lemmon plays an elusive grandfather, Julianne Moore personifies the middle class as well as she would in Magnolia and Lily Tomlin is cast against type as a sassy waitress married to a no-good limo driver (Tom Waits). Also on show are Frances McDormand, Andie MacDowell (in what has to be her best performance) and Tim Robbins.

A deft balance between comedy and melodrama is maintained, a laugh-out-loud scene in which photos are mixed up being a case in point. But, as you would expect, a feeling of dissatisfaction lurks behind the comfortable veneer, and it is a pleasure to watch tensions and conflicts run high before they are trivialised by a momentous but fleeting event.

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