IN THE CUT
A woman’s body – in parts – is found near the apartments where creative writing teacher Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan) lives, which brings Detectives Rodriguez (Nick Damici) and Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) into her rather disappointed life. She has been ignoring the intense interest of would-be boyfriend, highly strung John Graham (Kevin Bacon), and begins an affair with Malloy. Frannie’s equally frustrated half sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encourages the relationship, which is candidly sex driven. But Malloy is able to draw out of Frannie things she didn’t know about herself … On the other hand, she begins to suspect Malloy himself of being the serial killer, who strikes again – this time even closer to Frannie.
Review by Louise Keller:
Dreaming of love but obsessed by sex, In the Cut is a darkly intense psychological thriller at whose heart lies a heady love story. In pursuit of both love and a serial killer, Jane Campion gets into the murky areas of the troubled mind in this enthralling and at times terrifying film, showcasing girl-next-door Meg Ryan as we have never seen her before. Ryan gets her hands dirty in the guise of a haunting, troubled character whose loneliness and sexual fantasies swirl together like an all-engulfing dark cloud. A tale about complex relationships, In the Cut explores the intricacies of love – be it fantasy or real. We get a sense of the inevitable as fate seems destined to play her hand: the illuminated Psychic Reading sign in the window next to Frannie’s apartment catches our eye, and the fatalistic poetry quotes that continually grab her attention as her ‘passion’.
Campion’s work is both sensual and intimate, delving into and exposing both physicality and mental anguish. The confronting pivotal scene showing an erect penis in the midst of oral sex, is shot with an intent to shock. It’s explicit nature sticks in our minds throughout the film; in some ways it links us to Frannie, as though we have experienced something together. But apart from the frank, revealing sex scenes, the intimacy goes far deeper, as Frannie and her blatant man-chasing half-sister Pauline share secrets, and the less-than-romantic liaisons with Mark Ruffalo’s Malloy reveal plenty in their own way. Dion Beebe’s mis-en-scene camera work is intense indeed with in-your-face close ups: at times with a shaky camera, putting us on edge. The lighting is dark and life flickers its pain on Frannie’s expressive face.
In a role meant for Nicole Kidman, Ryan totally discards the nose-wrinkling sweetheart of the comedy persona that we have come to know so well, and delivers a punchy and unselfconscious performance that demands much both physically and emotionally. It’s a brave role for Ryan and it pays off in spades. And that’s no relation whatsoever to the tattooed 3 of spades which features predominantly in the plot. Jennifer Jason-Leigh is wonderfully cast, and the scenes between the two women sharing intimate details about men, sex and love, as they lounge around semi-dressed, rings very true. This verbal exchange is perhaps more intimate than any of the nudity of the high level sex scenes. Mark Ruffalo’s homicide detective has a harsh unfathomable dark edge, and offers no illusions about the sex that is on offer. We feel Frannie’s vulnerability, bruising easily and never quite sure how much and who she can trust. Kevin Bacon is a revelation as an obsessive actor-turned medical student who carries a yappy little dog, rubber gloves to pick up the poop and an intensity which is alarming. In fact, he’s almost unrecognisable in this role and adds another element of bizarre to the characters.
This is a powerful and harsh film in many ways that doesn’t cushion any blows – either psychological or physical. A thought provoking, intense and often shocking film, In the Cut cuts deep into the heart of the complexity of sex and relationships. It may cut too deeply for some, but if, like me, you enjoy the challenge, you will be enthralled.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In The Cut is a brave and inventive leap into genre filmmaking for Jane Campion, with a novel that seems at once cinematically irresistible and yet formidable to adapt. The sprawling and complex world that we are able to create in our imaginations from a novel is unspecific: there is no production designer required, no structure, no make up. It doesn’t even have to be clear in the sense of images. To nail all that in a visual medium is always astonishingly difficult. Has Jane done it? I think in many respects – and aided by damn fine performances - yes, although I am not a fan of this much hand held camera work. But then Dion Beebe’s brief seems too have been to get inside the characters, and his camera gets close enough to resemble micro-cam as used by surgeons. This does indeed carry a punch as the film’s characters and its (not always original or flawless) plot unravel roughly in parallel.
The film’s genuine lower East Village Manhattan settings (what we glimpse of them between the extreme close ups), its graphic sexuality and the expletive-ridden dialogue generate a gritty and vaguely desolate mood, which sits well with the noir sensibility. But it’s far from cool: there is an edginess to the work, amplified by the occasional snatches of poetry (on small subway billboards) and how Frannie’s emotions reference these. Not in the context of her work as a teacher of creative writing, but as a vulnerable and lost soul in a life that seems to be either degrading or attacking her. The poetry seems to hint at some meaning in this void of hers. This leads me to ponder about the source material and how the two female ‘authors’ of the film see the women portrayed. In an early but crucial scene, an unidentified female (seen only from the back) is fellating a man hidden in shadows in the dungeon-like toilet of a club. Frannie inadvertently catches this and watches for a bit. Throughout the film, Frannie and her sister are portrayed as sexually active but despite the odd bit of masturbating, are really male-dependent – emotionally, too.
Then there is the nasty business of the serial killer’s signature style with his female victims. Maybe it’s just me, but all these elements just don’t sit right coming from the creative juices of women who surely don’t intend to portray women as either victims or as male dependent. But gender politics aside, In The Cut dares to be more emotionally layered, morally provocative, creatively challenging and rule-breaking than its genre usually dictates, and is consequently quite compelling.
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JANE CAMPION INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
IN THE CUT (R)
CAST: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh
PRODUCER: Nicole Kidman, Laurie Parker
DIRECTOR: Jane Campion
SCRIPT: Jane Campion, Susanna Moore (novel by Moore)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dion Beebe
EDITOR: Alexandre de Franceschi
MUSIC: Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Brisbin
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 13, 2003