Judge Gordon Sullivan is afraid 1,000 cuts is what it takes to prepare 2001: A Space Odyssey for broadcast television.
"Grudges, gore, and a whole lot more!"
The media lately has been tragically rife with stories of violence, and as usual that violence is often being blamed on the media. From television to video games, concerned onlookers are trying to find something to blame for the apparently senseless loss of life. People are quick to point fingers, but it's usually at whole industries or specific films or video games. Rarely do the people who make our media get singled out for attention. A Thousand Cuts imagines a different world, one in which a grieving parent holds an artist accountable for the apparent violence his work caused. It's an interesting, though flawed, take on violence and responsibility.
Lance is apparently the world's hottest director of horror flicks. Though his heart's in the art house, his money comes from making schlock for the masses. He's known for making the Thousand Cuts franchise, where a killer drugs his victims before killing them by cutting them up piece by bloody piece. They say that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, but Lance doesn't like it when a real-life killer uses his films for inspiration, killing a young coed in a grisly manner. If that weren't a big enough problem, her father (Michael O'Keefe, Michael Clayton) blames Lance and wants to devise his own brand of torture to get revenge.
The basic idea at the core of A Thousand Cuts is a fine one: a vengeful father attempts to hold an artist responsible for the apparent consequences of his art. In times of stress we all want someone to blame, and given what Frank has had to go through, it's understandable that he'd want some kind of justice or revenge. The idea that he'd seek a revenge inspired by the artist's own film has a neat symmetry to it. The film gets points for trying. It doesn't have a huge budget, but it attracted solid actors and it never feels one-sided, like we're definitely supposed to root for one character over another.
However, the problem with A Thousand Cuts is that it's not really a new idea. Swimming with Sharks handled a similar situation between a boss and employee, with the employee striking out against a belligerent boss. Except that film had humor on its side, and played a nice game balancing between the fear of violence and black humor. Hard Candy plays a similar game of cat and mouse between two well-matched characters. However, it was wound so tight there was no chance for viewers to catch their breath. A Thousand Cuts never builds to that kind of tension and there are too many places where the film should move relentlessly forward but instead slows down for more torture. I should be clear that while the cover art makes A Thousand Cuts look like torture porn, it's not. There are some moments of violence, but much of the film is concerned with psychological torture rather than the gore which inspires the film's plot.
The film isn't helped much by this presentation. The 1.781:1/1080p HD transfer actually seems to do a fine job, but the source material looks to have been shot on a lower-end camera. That means any scene that's not in perfectly bright light tends to crush and look noisy. Again, it's almost certainly the source rather than the transfer, but A Thousand Cuts does not do the hi-def format justice here. The soundtrack fares slightly better. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track keeps dialogue clear out of the center, though it sounds a bit flat. There's a bit of directionality in a few places, and the score uses the low end a bit. Definitely listenable, though not at all remarkable. Extras start with the film's trailer and end with eight production stills in a photo gallery. That's it.
A Thousand Cuts is an interesting attempt at tackling a difficult and unwieldy topic. It surveys both sides of the media/violence connection and finds both sides wanting a bit. As food for thought it succeeds, but as a thriller it falls a bit flat. Plot devices viewers see coming and a slow pace keep the film from ever really catching fire. It's probably worth a rental for those looking for a more psychological take on torture, but the so-so presentation and lack of extras make it hard to recommend anything other than a rental.
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