Short Cuts - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Short Cuts Reviews

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April 19, 2016
most riveting long funny sad movie of all times
February 25, 2016
Once October rolls around this 2016, it will have been four years since the first time I watched "Short Cuts." It was during a party my parents had planned for weeks, the kind where a bunch of middle-aged friends get together and talk about their most prevalent life problems, their most recent professional successes, over fine wine and aged cheese. Naturally, a fifteen-year-old with nothing better to do on a lazy weekend afternoon hardly has a place in that kind of setting, and so, for its duration, I locked myself in my bedroom and wrapped myself in my silken sheets, the best way to pass the time being the viewing of "Short Cuts." I played it on the ancient family laptop that had a bad habit of causing perfectly healthy DVDs to skip at the worst of moments; on that machine's most vindictive days, remote controls would all but temporarily disappear.
Predictably, the three-hour, seven minute long "Short Cuts" did skip and did, of course, tuck away its remote controls during times I'd prefer it wouldn't (a family friend came upstairs to visit me around the period Julianne Moore gives her infamous monologue, a teenager's dream). But in those mostly uninterrupted three hours of viewing did my perception of film change shape. A mind that once figured that movies with a slice-of-life demeanor were good enough, I had no idea that a film as epic, as astronomical, as totally real as "Short Cuts," could possibly exist. In an art form that prefers to have its greatest of works last around ninety minutes, to detail the lives of two or three characters at a time, to have a single, easy-to-follow plot, "Short Cuts," lasting about as long as "War and Peace," fleshing out some twenty-two equally main characters, and intersecting its many stories with naturalistic ease, was something completely ethereal to me.
How could Robert Altman, one of the great America directors ("Nashville," "The Player"), juggle so many characters, so many storylines, and yet make them all feel as immediate as the other? How could all these big stars (some established, some to be established) leap off their untouchable pedestals and recreate themselves as people as real as you or me? How could a movie three hours in length not seem quite long enough? How could it be cinematically possible to go from a hysterically funny scene to briskly turn to a devastatingly melancholy one and still ring as cohesive?
A little over three years and hundreds of movies later since that initial viewing, I suppose I expected to be slightly less besotted with "Short Cuts," as I've grown older and wiser and am becoming increasingly immune to certain aspects of filmmaking because I've seen so much in such a short time. But nothing has changed. I claimed it to be one of the best films ever made back in 2012 and still consider it to be so today - a film so deeply human, so heart-stoppingly byzantine yet so onerously simple, is not something one stumbles upon often when seeking celluloid based escapism. It's even rarer to find a movie where the characters do nothing but talk, live, and emote, and are just as thrilling to live vicariously through as Steve McQueen's metaphorical car chase passenger in "Bullitt."
The screenplay, co-written by Altman and Frank Barhydt, is an adaptation of nine short stories and a poem by prolific writer Raymond Carver, whose minimalist prose and ability to draw lifelike characters within the context of a short story rendered him as a revivalist of the form in his heyday. Unfamiliar with his work and more in touch with what surrounds his name on Wikipedia, "Short Cuts" only lifts his characters, not his settings (switched from the Pacific Northwest to Los Angeles) nor the way the individuals on display are inevitably related. The film could be an assemblage of vignettes designed to arrive one after the other, but Altman, an auteur whose liking of the cliché that Everything Is Connected, does the impossible and links all twenty-two of its main characters with daisy chain strength. Whether one is a neighbor of the other or if one is a cop stopping another character by chance for driving too slowly, the people of "Short Cuts," regardless of class or race, compare in the ways that they're all trying to dig themselves out of gaping holes of discontent, though individual intensity, along with our reactions to them, ranges.
Judge their everyday hardships for yourself. We are voyeur to the lives of Ann and Howard Finnigan (Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison), a well-off married couple (he's a TV newscaster) whose banal but comfy existence is shattered when their son (Zane Cassidy) is hit by a car. Because he gets up and seems fine, and because he won't take any help because his parents told him never to talk to strangers, the driver, Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin), hesitantly departs the scene - at least she didn't kill him. Her daughter (Lili Taylor) is best friends with Lois Kaiser (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a phone-sex operator unwittingly putting her marriage on the rocks because her husband (Chris Penn) is jealous that she never talks to him that way during sex.
Then there's Sherri and Gene Shepard (Madeleine Stowe and Tim Robbins), whose marriage is kind of shitty but somehow manageable; though she's aware that her husband, a motorcycle cop, cheats on her regularly (his current conquest is an equally morally unstable married woman played by Frances McDormand), she thinks his lies are hilariously fun to artificially buy. Her sister, Marian (Julianne Moore), a bourgeois painter and her confidant, plays wife to husband Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine), a doctor, but most of the intimacy that used to live between them has given way to distrust. It might all come to a head during a dinner party they politely invite Claire and Stuart Kane (Anne Archer and Fred Ward) to, who themselves are arguing because he and his friends went fishing for a weekend and didn't let the dead body they discovered in their stream deter their fun until the Sunday they got back home.
Other characters include Paul Finnigan (Jack Lemmon), Howard's father who decides to come for a hospital visit only to talk about himself, Zoe and Tess Trainer (Annie Ross and Lori Singer), a mother-daughter pair whose relationship is deterred by mom's fondness for liquor, Stormy Weathers (Peter Gallagher), the vengeful husband of Gene's mistress, and Earl (Tom Waits), Doreen's husband who might be irreplaceably flawless if he weren't so dependent on the bottle to get by.
Verily, some of these stories are more engaging than others, but none of them ever feel unnecessary. Like life itself, you have people you'd like to spend time with and people you'd prefer to stay away from, and, being the unfiltered reflection of everyday mundanity that it is, you've got to take the good with the bad and see where they all end up. But in totality, there isn't a film quite like "Short Cuts," unless you go down Robert Altman's filmography and start cherry-picking. With its preeminent use of cross-talking for sake of verisimilitude, and for the way it's sad, or funny, in ways relatively down-to-Earth, we might as well consider ourselves to be watching a documentary. Because that's what it feels like - "Short Cuts" doesn't so much regard itself as a movie as it does pass itself along as a collection of connected, average lives, riveting to watch because these people aren't so different from us, our neighbors, our friends, our family, our enemies. We've all felt a desire to break down closed doors and see what goes on in the lives of those we know, those we know of, and the film very well might be a close enough representation.
And since Altman pulls off that mightily difficult undertaking, his actors are faultless, too. Everything about the ensemble is just about right, not appearing in roles but disappearing into people that might not be so much different from themselves (on a level of humanity, that is). MacDowell and Davison are heartbreakingly emotive as people who once had it all, but are rapidly losing what made their existence something special. Stowe and Robbins play house with convincing dysfunction, and Tomlin and Waits are touching as a middle-aged couple who are able to get by with little, able to keep their love alive after years together. I love Leigh as the phone-sex operator, delivering dirty lines with passion as she performs blasé tasks like changing her baby's diapers and making dinner, and I love Lemmon's brief performance as an absent father so distinctly aware of his failures as a guardian that he can't help but ignore the traumas in front of him and make everything about his own past mistakes.
But perhaps the finest moment in "Short Cuts" is the climactic fight scene between Ralph and Marian, which is as tense and explosive as it is scrupulously humorous. The scene, taking place shortly before their sure-to-be-awkward dinner with the Kanes, depicts Ralph confronting Marian about a past infidelity. But just as things are about to get raging, Marian spills white wine all over her skirt, which she was planning to wear for the party. She rips it off and attempts to wash it, completely nude from the waist down, having to still fight for herself as things get increasingly hostile. Marian's nakedness is both surreally funny and representative of the way all affinity has left the marriage; so well does this couple know each other that such physical display is hardly titillating - Ralph is much more content screaming at his wife than paying attention to her nether regions. The scene is bizarre, intense, hilarious, but also expertly performed; is there a more fearless actress working today than Moore (whose career began the process of kicking off because of this performance), and is there an actor that could play Ralph with the same believable furiousness? The actors are effortlessly able to evoke a feeling of a marriage gone stale, and it's one of the best conversations Altman has ever written.
But "Short Cuts," if we're being general, is one of the best films Altman has ever made, a wide display of his eccentricities accessible and immediate. Even those not as in love with it as I am cannot pass by its brilliance without highly regarding the way Altman so easily makes the complicated simple and oftentimes intimate. It's a skillfully performed film written and directed with the finesse of a virtuoso. Altman's career only contains a few unmistakable masterpieces, the rest mostly good but nevertheless containing more than a couple of clunkers. But "Short Cuts" is one of his rare masterstrokes, sure to be considered his magnum opus if "Nashville" didn't exist. Movies like this are what keep the art of cinema alive - childlike wonder is not an unnatural reaction to have in the face of its splendor.
January 30, 2016
One of the movies that made me want to make movies and make movies like this one. Anything that can delight in the truthful machinations of everyday human behavior is an elusive victory. It takes a deft writing touch, nimble actors who can appear to effortlessly inhabit these roles and the type of brilliant effortless-looking directing of which Altman was a master. Call it slice of life elevated to poetry or maybe a collection of peculiarly interesting homes all collected into one condominium for 3 hours. Robert Altman gives us the telescope.
½ January 29, 2016
A very good film, featuring eight different stories and no happy ending.
January 2, 2016
at three hours long, this seemed a bit daunting but it was easy to get through as it is a good film with a massive cast of famous faces. It contained so many different stories that it's hard to pin a genre to it. All the characters were aquainted in some way and as the story hopped from one family situation to another there seemed to be nice little link which you had to spot, this was a fun gimick which I noticed fairly early on and helped to keep my attention. Another was that the film starts by showing LA being sprayed by insecticide and in a state of quarantine. You obviously think this is gonna be some sort of disaster movie but it's relevance to the story is a bit of a red herring.
December 20, 2015

Directed by Robert Altman and based on a series of short stories by Raymond Carver, the movie has many different sets of characters, each with their own problems and stories. These stories seem unrelated and running parallel to one another but eventually they all connect, and when they do its in interesting, and sometimes tragic, ways.

A very clever, sensitive movie that explores how lives of strangers are connected, and really all of us are connected.

Deftly directed by Robert Altman. All-star cast delivers in spades.

A 90s classic.
½ November 16, 2015
A great piece of work by Robert Altman. Based on Raymond Carver's stories. People unrelated but not disconnected between them, characters that could belong to anywhere or nowhere.
½ October 18, 2015
In blending humor and wit with the tragedy of human folly, Short Cuts deftly navigates the balancing act of suburban disconnect and self-absorption in LA. Altman doesn't pretend to sympathize with his characters, examining them objectively from a distance while inviting us to assess for ourselves. Imitating real life, the story is often uneven, and gives its characters varying degrees of closure without spoiling realistic ambiguity, and some subplots are left open-ended altogether. Despite its many challenges, including a running time that just exceeds three hours, Altman's Short Cuts is ultimately an engaging and rewarding experience, and although it was released in the early 90's, the film's glimpse of middle class egotism is applicable now more than ever in the age of social media.
Robert B.
Super Reviewer
October 8, 2015
Short Cuts is a film of many quirks. It is a big film that feels like a little one. It is a dark film that feels light. If you want an indication as to whether you will enjoy the film, check out the cast. I rate this film up mainly because I love watching these actors act. I don't believe the length is a problem because it is the type of film that is very easy to stop and then pick right back up again without losing a beat.
½ September 22, 2015
A clear influence on magnolia (one of my favourite films). This is good but just didn't quite move me in the same way.
½ July 26, 2015
Raymond Carver wrote nine unresolved short stories and a poem set in the Pacific Northwest detailing American malaise and how alcohol and infidelity act as a substitute. Director Robert Altman transported these stories and expanded on them to the outskirts of Los Angeles among a cross-section of people unaffiliated with the entertainment industry. For the most part, Altman captures the spirit of Carver without doing a straight adaptation. Altman and Frank Barhydt wrote the script and they link the twenty-two characters together through random circumstances. It doesn't have the running commentary or overlapping dialogue we associate with Altman, but the multi-character viewpoint is there and the characterizations are more complex than in "Nashville." Some of the stories and characters are more effective than others, and some have little relation to Carver at all. The presence of alcohol in the movie has less relevance to the overall action than in Carver's stories, and the earthquake finale fails to tie events together as successfully as the climaxes in Altman's best movies. At three hours, this moves at a fast clip. It comes closer to reflecting contemporary American life than almost any other movie of its era. Kudos goes to editors Geraldine Peroni and Suzy Elmiger. Among the standouts in the cast are: Bruce Davison, Fred Ward, Jack Lemmon, Lily Tomlin, Madeleine Stowe, Tom Waits, Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore. Also with Andie MacDowell, Anne Archer, Annie Ross, Buck Henry, Chris Penn, Frances McDormand, Huey Lewis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lili Taylor, Lori Singer, Lyle Lovett, Matthew Modine, Peter Gallagher, Robert Downey, Jr.
½ May 26, 2015
Altman's adaptation of Raymond Carver's stories is really not as "fresh" as the 94% rating it carries -- it contains enough magic to cover up the weaker moments. Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin are particularly solid here.
May 25, 2015
This movie was a whole lot of nothing. It had its moments and good acting, but goes on for far too long.
½ May 2, 2015
A great ensemble piece that definitely makes me see where Paul Thomas Anderson got influence for his many ensemble pieces most notably Magnolia. Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins, Jack Lemmon, Frances McDormand, and Annie Ross were the stands outs performances wise. It plays more off like a miniseries with many episodic moments and at times I just asked for it to get to the point but overall it is well acted and written enough to keep you into it
½ April 8, 2015
Altman's intersecting lives picture is high minded if not more than a little confusing.
March 7, 2015
Short Cuts is a complex, compelling, ensemble piece that despite a rousing final act feels a bit incomplete. You unfortunately never get to know each of the characters that well but it feels like that was Altman's intentions. The casting is spot on and Tim Robbins was probably the stand out as a dick father. The length is fitting and doesn't detract from the film but actually helps it. I felt like a couple stories could have been removed and replaced by more development to the other ones, but I guess Altman didn't want to fully develop every story.
½ March 1, 2015
Altman is blending together a shitloads of stories in the LA area together, where many of the crosses paths. Gentry sliding from one to another, the three hours flies by as we are witnessing this drowned world of tragic outcomes. Though the film itself is proclaming the real essence of what was the early 90's in California. With all those stories Altman is also really putting light on neary the whole range community rich to poor, its pretty unique, though its been done before by himself in Nashville etc.
½ February 11, 2015
I've been going through Robert Altman's films and this is the best (and longest) one yet.
½ February 11, 2015
Altman deftly juggles 22 characters and fleshes them out in detail to make this one of the greatest ensemble casts ever filmed. Won Silver Lion in Venice and obtained a cult status, deservedly so.
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