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Short Cuts Reviews

With SHORT CUTS, director/co-screenwriter Robert Altman revisits the format of his 1975 masterpiece NASHVILLE, presenting a panorama of intertwined Southern California lives adapted from works by Raymond Carver. The result is quirky, sometimes brilliant, and mostly ice-cold. Waitress Doreen (Lily Tomlin) is married to Earl (Tom Waits), a drunken lout who may have importuned to her daughter Honey (Lili Taylor). Honey's husband Bill (Robert Downey Jr.) is an aspiring makeup artist who pals around with Jerry (Chris Penn), who runs a pool maintenance service and is frustrated and disturbed by his wife Lois' (Jennifer Jason Leigh) career in phone sex. Claire (Anne Archer) and Stuart (Fred Ward) meet surgeon Ralph (Matthew Modine) and his painter wife Marian (Julianne Moore) at a concert featuring cellist Zoe Trainer (Lori Singer); the couples plan a barbecue, after Stuart takes a fishing trip during which he and his buddies discover a dead, naked woman in a stream. Marian's sister Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) decides to let her motorcycle cop husband Gene's (Tim Robbins) affair with Betty (Frances McDormand) play itself out. Betty's jealous, estranged husband, Stormy Weathers (Peter Gallagher), watches. Doreen runs over Casey Finnigan (Zane Cassidy), son of Ann (Andie MacDowell) and news anchor Howard (Bruce Davison). Their lives--and those of many others--overlap and intertwine, until an earthquake shakes up everyone and everything involved. Altman's "Carver soup" didn't please all the author's admirers, many of whom felt that, by changing the locale and tone of Carver's stories and linking them to form an integrated web, the director had dispensed with exactly what was Carveresque about his source. It's hard not to be impressed, though, by Altman's narrative legerdemain--he sustains at least ten major stories, each of which has depth, definition, and dramatic interest--or the first-rate contributions of the players. The film is fascinating and complex, and benefits from a densely textured soundtrack that makes it as interesting to listen to as to watch.