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In the Cut (A Movie Review)

Updated: Dec 25, 2020

In the Cut

IN THE CUT (2003)

Starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Bacon, Nick Damici, Sharieff Pugh, Sunrise Coigney, Susan Gardner, Heather Litteer, Frank Harts, Patrice O’Neil, Zach Wegner, Funda Duyal, Theo Kogan, Nancy LaScala, Ami Goodheart, Upendran Panicker, Michelle Hurst and Hal Sherman.

Screenplay by Jane Campion and Susanna Moore.

Directed by Jane Campion.

Distributed by Screen Gems Pictures.  Rated R.  112 minutes.

I do understand why this role was so attractive to Meg Ryan. It was being directed by Jane Campion, a respected filmmaker who had such art house smashes as The Piano, Sweetie and The Portrait of a Lady on her résumé. It was based on a well-received novel of suspense that explored women’s lives, professions and sexual obsessions. Ryan undoubtedly saw this movie to be for her career as Monster’s Ball was to Halle Berry. It’s a way for the audience to see Ryan in a whole new light, distraught and naked and vulnerable. Sadly, it turns out the film is a little more like Swordfish was to Berry, a stylish, incomprehensible mess that really only existed to show us a shy actress’ breasts.

Ryan has been somewhat pigeonholed into the cutesy Nora Ephron romantic trifles, and while she is quite good at them, rarely does the audience accept a different kind of role from her. Which is a shame, because she has shown quite a bit of range in performances like Courage Under Fire, City of Angels and the way underrated black comedy Addicted to LoveIn the Cut is not even Ryan’s first attempt at a dark drama complete with nudity (that would be 1993’s rightfully forgotten Flesh & Bone.) So, it is admirable that Ryan keeps going out there trying to get the audience to refer to her in a sentence that does not include the word “cute.” I hope she keeps trying. But In the Cut was the wrong choice of a film to do it.

Ryan does what she can with the material that she was given. But she isn’t given much. Her character is Franny, an English teacher with the rather obscure specialty of slang terminology. Franny is essentially the walking dead – she is so cut off from her feelings that she seems numb on a constant basis. She walks through her empty Greenwich Village life in a daze, bouncing off her half-sister (who may or may not be a stripper, but most certainly is a stalker.)

The only cure Franny can seem to find for the gnawing loneliness is sex.  But she does not seem to enjoy it, in fact as soon as she’s done, she seems to hate the fact that she was so weak.

The men in her life are even less centered than Franny and her sister, in fact they are downright shady.  She has a distant but flirtatious relationship with a gang-banging student (Sharieff Pugh) who wants to get a little closer to the teach.  Franny is also being followed by a mentally unstable neighbor (an uncredited Kevin Bacon) who was the object of one of her one-night stands, but now believes they have a relationship.

Into this unsavory circle comes Mark Ruffalo as Detective Malloy, a homicide cop who is investigating the murder and dismemberment of a local girl. Ruffalo has borrowed the hair, the mustache and the mannerisms of a 70s porn star for his character. His character is odd to be charitable, at times seeming downright disturbing. Of course, Franny is drawn to him, and soon they are intertwined naked in his apartment. (This seems like it would be a big no-no as far as police procedures for handling witnesses, but we’ll let it slide.)

Franny is willing to let stuff slide, too. For example, she is pretty sure that before she met the detective on the case, she saw him getting a blow job from a woman in the dark basement of a seamy bar. This changes to fear when she realizes that the woman who was servicing him may very well have been the victim. Franny tries to keep her distance, but she finds herself unable to resist him sexually.

This is one of the oldest storylines in the books, and it has been done before and better in films like The Jagged Edge, Sea of Love and even potboilers like Basic Instinct.  There are lots of red herrings, lots of false turns.  Franny consistently does stupid things with men she doesn’t trust which only serves to place her in danger.

It might be something we could overlook if the film brought something new to the table, or at least had an intriguing visual spin on the proceedings.  Instead, Campion’s directing is distracting here. She is trying to take what is a pretty standard sex thriller and turn it into an art film. It just doesn’t work. All the fancy camera tricks and dark symbolism seem a little show-offy here. Also, Campion has no feel for the world she is portraying. Her view of New York City has bars and strip clubs that look like the seventh ring of Hell. Even the supposedly nice areas – a college classroom, a police squad room, the heroine’s apartment – have a totally seamy and squalid feel. Little artsy touches, like signs with poetry on subway cars (the only poetry I’ve ever seen on a NYC subway car sign was “Newport – Alive with pleasure”) and hurky-jerky black and white flashbacks of ice skating in Central Park just seal the total detachment of this film from reality.

Keep on looking, Meg.  Sorry, but this movie’s not going to do the trick.  (10/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © 2003 All rights reserved. Posted: November 1, 2003.

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