“This is the third person I’ve buried this week.”
Violence begets violence. It’s a lesson we all (or most of us, at least) learn early on, and it’s a lesson firmly driven home by co-writer/director Chris Baugh in Bad Day for the Cut. His Irish gangster thriller pits an unassuming farmer against the ruthless members of a slick crime syndicate, and the results are both explosive and heartbreaking.
In Bad Day for the Cut, we meet Donal (Nigel O’Neill), a middle-aged man who lives at home with his mom, Florence (Stella McCusker), on their remote farm in the Irish countryside. He spends his free time fixing cars or drinking at the local pub, with nothing remotely out of the ordinary ever really happening in his quietly mundane existence. But one night, Donal discovers his mother brutally murdered in their home, and he sees a mysterious man and car leaving their property, leaving the farmer both devastated and bewildered. Who would want to kill his mom, an elderly woman living in the middle of nowhere who never even leaves her home?
That is the answer Donal sets out to find after two young men try to murder him shortly after Florence’s funeral, but they bungle it so badly that Donal turns the tables on them before they know it. One of the men, Bartosz (Józef Pawlowski), gives Donal just enough information to set him off on his vengeful journey, telling him that infamous crime boss Frankie Pierce (Susan Lynch) and her right-hand man, Trevor (Stuart Graham), are behind his mother’s savage killing. As Donal prepares to hunt down his mother’s killers and put more of the mysterious puzzle pieces of her death into place, Bartosz agrees to help the man he almost killed so that he can help save his sister, Kaja (Anna Próchniak), who was kidnapped by Frankie’s group and is now forced to work as a prostitute.
The great thing about Bad Day for the Cut is while you could say that there are technically victors and losers in this fight, the truth is, no one comes out a winner here. There’s definitely something to be said for Baugh’s decision to give us a realistic depiction of the ramifications of violence, where even those who survive the battle don’t really win anything in the long run. Baugh subtly explores these ideas in a beautifully nuanced way (akin to how Jeremy Saulnier tackled similar themes in Green Room), transforming Bad Day into something more than your typical “shoot-’em-up” revenge story.
Baugh and co-writer Brendan Mullin’s script for Bad Day offers up many unique twists on familiar crime thriller storytelling devices, and a lot of that comes from the exquisitely nuanced manner in which the film strips away the different layers to its characters, making their motivations and actions a bit more complicated than just another “good guys versus bad guys” scenario. And while the performances in Bad Day are fantastic across the board, I must take a moment to tip my hat to Susan Lynch, who just dominates every single scene she appears in.
The cinematography from director of photography Ryan Kernaghan is also astounding, and the way he brilliantly takes in the lush Irish hillsides and the isolation of Donal’s existence with his lens is quite lovely to behold. Kernaghan also does an incredible job of capturing the coldness of the city once Donal begins his vengeful pursuit of Frankie and her henchmen. His nighttime camerawork hums with a palpable sense of electricity amidst the urban landscapes, adding another layer of excitement to the film as tensions mount between the characters.
The way Baugh visually presents the collision of these two very different worlds is also smart. Donal, a meager farmer, is often seen wearing sweaters and busy patterns while his adversaries are always seen in outfits with clean lines and a simple color palette (mostly black, white, and gray)— a subtle, but very deliberate method of capturing that small town meets big city feel.
As a whole, first-time feature filmmaker Baugh has a lot to be proud of with Bad Day for the Cut, and aspects of his story hit me in ways I didn’t see coming. A powerful statement on the collateral damage that often accompanies the violent acts human beings commit against each other, Bad Day frames its emotional fallout with a raw honesty that elevates its crime thriller story, making Baugh’s cinematic foray into a truly special viewing experience that I know will stick with me for some time (especially the film’s last shot).
Movie Score: 4/5