A neo-noir shot in black-and-white, “Cut to Black” neither hides nor flaunts its anachronistic quality, which squarely coincides with its protagonist’s fatalistic, world-weary sense of having outlived his time. Serving as producer, director, writer and star, Dan Eberle pushes noir’s down-the-rabbit-hole descent into nightmare to its subjective extreme, as his disgraced ex-cop hero continually awakens to find his blood on his pillow and his past associates knocking at the door. Eberle’s three previous indies have gained largely local critical recognition; his latest cuts a wider swath, but still may skew too esoteric for major arthouse play. Perhaps talent, like murder, will out.
Bill Ivers (Eberle), once a promising member of the Brooklyn police force, lies around his dingy apartment, swilling whiskey and screwing his landlord’s wife, his gravelly interior monologue oozing fatigue and disillusionment. Former friend and colleague Gunther (Beau Allulli, who also exec produced), a moralizing, AA-attending, upwardly mobile foil to Bill’s dissolute, cynical down-and-outer, approaches him with a job offer from Bill’s former boss, high-ranking city politico John Lord (James Alba), who let him take the fall for an unnamed illegal act, costing him his position, self-respect and pension. Since the offer comes with a $200,000 apology and a hefty per diem, Bill agrees to protect Lord’s estranged daughter, Jessica (Jillaine Gill), from a stalker.
Everything about his assignment looks sleazy. Jessica works in a strip club called “the Confessional,” while her routine, enacted behind a one-way mirror for the delectation of individual clients, offsets her black-costumed contortions against a white backdrop, providing a high-concept, high-contrast fantasy. She is shown slipping wads of cash to longtime boyfriend Duane (Joe Stipek) to stave off a dangerous slimeball to whom he owes money. A stalker mysteriously gains access to her locked bedroom to leave creepy letters and used condoms.
But Bill soon discovers that appearances can be deceiving, and morality quite relative. The stalker turns out to be more pathetic than threatening. Jessica and Duane strive heroically to reclaim their integrity, while hypocritical upholders of the law spin convoluted webs of crime and betrayal.
The largely unknown cast members, many of whom appeared in the helmer’s previous films, uniformly excel. Eberle himself completely nails the lead role. Plus, although the film wears its dated genre affectations on its sleeve, the script avoids pretension, its hero’s believably alienated exhaustion overriding mere nostalgia.
Timothy McGonagle’s editing and Bob Hart’s jazz-infused, edgy score nicely rev up the menace. Except for unfortunate out-of-focus split-screen views of the city, James Parsons’ crisp lensing lends “Cut to Black” a high-octane flair for abstraction that transcends time.