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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 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. 

Published May 13, 2004

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CAST: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh

DIRECTOR: Jane Campion

SCRIPT: Jane Campion, Susanna Moore (novel by Moore)

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen (1.84:1/16:9 Enhanced) Language – English, Spanish, Hungarian, Russian (all 5.1); Sub-title options: English, Spanish, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovene

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Jane Campion and producer Laurie Parker; behind the scenes featurette on the making of the movie with cast/crew interviews; ‘Frannie Avery’s slang dictionary’ featurette; original movie trailer;

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: May 12, 2004

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