Short Cuts

1993 Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Andie Macdowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey, Madeleine Stowe, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Jack Lemmon, Lyle Lovett, Frances Mcdormand, Peter Gallagher, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Buck Henry, Huey Lewis.

REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Oct. 29, 1993

Short Cuts is simply Robert Altman by way of Raymond Carver. As with anything this insistently renegade talent does, the emphasis is on Altman. Even a talent as great as Carver is merely a sidebar to the one long movie Altman's been making his whole life. On to the details: Short Cuts is a serious dramatic swirl of a film, a three-hour mixing of nine Carver tales into an Altman slice of life. Short Cuts dips in and out of the different lives of its characters: a waitress and a chauffeur with a drinking problem, a pool cleaning man and his phone sex hostess wife, as it tells its stories. As with Nashville, it could have gone on for six or nine hours (and what happened to those rumors of a ten-hour Nashville?). Carver is a minimalist. Altman is excessive, so overloading his movies with details that the soundtracks often become nearly incoherent. Carver stories are brief, Altman goes on forever. And where Carver seemed ambiguous towards his characters, Altman, though he provides everyone at least one moment, either of redemption or condemnation, as always, has a kind of sad contempt for his characters. Still, it is the perfect marriage, both are obsessed with the mundane details of life, especially romantic life -- a man and a woman together. Carver's stories are obviously inspiring for Altman, and that's the point, this movie is bursting at the seams with ideas and energy. Altman has said that, as far as he is concerned, when he's finished casting, he's done with the movie -- which, though anti-artist huff, is to some extent true. This perfectly cast group of actors and actresses could wander through these stories for days and they'd be interesting to watch. Altman, however, is still Altman, the con-man artist, dealing the cards a little too fast so the yokels won't suspect it's all a trick. Although he always condescends a little to his characters and a little to his audience, Altman's been the greatest swashbuckling son-of-a-bitch director since at least Huston passed away. The body of work is consistent, extraordinary, packed, almost without exception with great performances, yet more often than not Altman's films fail. Where Carver shunned melodramatic detail, treating it at its most extraordinary as mundane, Altman is addicted to it. Why have one action, when you can have two or three? Narratively, his films are often absurd and Short Cuts is no exception. I wish he liked his people more; every character -- waitress, chauffeur, TV newsman, cop -- without exception, is, at first, offered at their most stereotypical. As always with Altman, the moment of redemption each experiences is delightful but they're set against too predictable characterizations and Altman's distance from all his characters. In a way, this is counterbalanced by the cast, there really isn't time to go over the range of inspired performances. So why is this film so great -- the extraordinary performances, the perfect cutting that keeps you jumping from story to story, the brilliant Altman, the best director for getting a natural feeling, as though the camera lighting is there by accident? Foremost is the very adventure of experiencing an Altman film, his failures are better than most directors's successes. This movie could go on for hours and I would watch all of it... so what if there is this persistent cynicism, this selling his characters short.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Robert Altman Films
A Prairie Home Companion
It's been a very long time since any Robert Altman film has been as enjoyable as A Prairie Home Companion.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 9, 2006

The Company
Robert Altman sidles up to Chicago's Joffrey Ballet and finds lots of glorious footwork but missteps when it comes to storytelling.

Kimberley Jones, Jan. 30, 2004

More by Louis Black
Page Two: Row My Boat Ashore
Page Two: Row My Boat Ashore
Louis Black bids farewell in his final "Page Two" column

Sept. 8, 2017

Page Two: The Good Songs We Need to Sing Together and Loud
Page Two: The Good Songs We Need to Sing Together and Loud
Celebrating love and resistance at Terry and Jo Harvey Allen's 55th wedding anniversary

July 14, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Short Cuts, Robert Altman, Andie Macdowell, Bruce Davison, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey, Madeleine Stowe, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Jack Lemmon, Lyle Lovett, Frances Mcdormand, Peter Gallagher

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle