Movie review by Greg Carlson
Jane Campion’s movies are always interesting to watch, even when they don’t entirely satisfy the expectations of her ardent fans. This is once again the case with the director’s latest work, an adaptation of a Susanna Moore novel starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo. “In the Cut” struggles to transcend the limitations of its well-worn genre: the combination police procedural/psychodrama/serial killer thriller. Campion works double-time to squeeze in an abundance of colorful and unconventional dialogue, sweaty cinematography, and sepia-toned surrealist dream sequences, but the end result is terribly disappointing: a formulaic exercise with an obvious “twist” that can be figured out long before the conclusion by anyone with even a trace of a clue.
Ryan, eschewing her usual sunny vivacity for a sexed-up romp as a disoriented wreck, plays Frannie, a writing instructor who flirts a little too much with her students. As part of a steady stream of coincidences only a detective could love, some “disarticulated” remains of a young woman show up in Frannie’s garden and she is subsequently questioned by James Malloy, Ruffalo’s deceptively low-key homicide cop. As it turns out, Frannie thinks she might have seen the victim in a shadowy bar, performing oral sex on a man with a tattoo identical to the one on the investigating police officer’s wrist. From there, things merely get more and more weird.
Lonely Frannie has also been dating red herring John (Kevin Bacon, sleazy), an emotional pressure-cooker with the lid on too tight, but is happy to send him packing for Malloy, who exults in his skills at cunnilingus, and practically gloats after bringing Frannie to an apparently long-overdue orgasm. Ruffalo and Ryan throw off plenty of sparks in their frequent onscreen couplings, and the sexual relationship that develops between their two characters turns out to be the only halfway compelling thing about the film.
Campion strains to visualize Frannie’s confused mental state by simultaneously developing cockeyed subplots involving the long-ago courtship of Frannie’s mother by a charming rake and the literal writing on the wall in a series of subway poems that Frannie chooses to read as bad omens. Additionally, Frannie makes the mistake of taking advice from her perpetually groggy half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, punchy), a somewhat promiscuous pleasure-seeker who lives, a little unconvincingly, above a strip club.
While the obsessive relationship between Frannie and Malloy heats to a steady boil, the supporting cast is integrated with all the subtlety and smoothness of a runaway jackhammer. Frannie’s student Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh) alternates between mumbling constantly about the innocence of child-killer John Wayne Gacy and coming on sexually to his teacher. Malloy’s partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici) tracks dirt through every one of his scenes. Add all this to Bacon’s vein-popping outbursts and Ruffalo’s nonchalant egocentrism, and one begins to wonder why Frannie even bothers to get out of bed each morning. Frannie’s suspicion of Malloy is critical to the suspense, and in a way, that’s too bad – “In the Cut” might have been an altogether better movie had it dealt more with a kinky hookup between two alluring characters and less with the mechanics of the stock whodunit.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/3/03.