In the Cut
Directed by Jane Campion. Starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh. (2003, R, 118 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 31, 2003
Jane Campion enters the world of the erotic thriller with this film adaptation of Susanna Moore’s popular novel, which was scripted by Moore and Campion. The choice seems to mark a conscious shift in material, after the weak critical and box-office reception for her last two films, The Portrait of a Lady and Holy Smoke. Her strategy both works and doesn’t work. In the Cut is almost always compelling, even when its true-crime plot machinations appear obvious and flawed. Campion creates a visual and emotional vortex into which the viewer is swept along with the story’s central character, Frannie (Ryan). It’s a world of the interior mind, for this New York City hardly looks like the real place. It has none of the real thing’s commotion and bustle and noise. And the spooky, off-key rendition of "Que Sera Sera" over the film’s opening credits clues us that we’ve entered a universe that’s off-kilter. We’ve entered this world through the perspective of Frannie, an English teacher and writer, whose particular study of interest is slang and the way slang terms bear either sexual or violent connotations. Or maybe she sees what she wants or needs to see. Frannie is emotionally reserved and provides a stark contrast to her emotionally needy half sister Pauline (Leigh). Meg Ryan is also reaching for something new as an actor in this movie. Hardly ever cracking a smile, her button-down clothes and flat, straight hair indicate that she does not wish to be identified as the girl next door in this movie. In fact, she disarmingly resembles Nicole Kidman, Campion’s Portrait of a Lady star, who was originally supposed to play Frannie but ended up as a producer instead. A woman has been found dead in the garden outside her apartment – "disarticulated" she writes down on a pad as the detective utters the word. There is no shortage of suspects, although one needn’t have a detective’s badge to determine the culprit. It might be the handsome detective Malloy (a fabulous Ruffalo) with whom Frannie starts an affair, or perhaps it’s his curious partner Rodriguez (Damici). Also under suspicion is her mercurial student Cornelius (Pugh) and her unsettling ex (an uncredited Kevin Bacon). People and coincidences begin piling up too conveniently to be believed and the ending is full of melodramatic twists. Still, this story about a woman who fears her deepest desires is gripping stuff. So much of the movie’s imagery feels as though it’s been glimpsed out of the corner of one’s eye – a technique that heightens the movie’s tension and doubt. In the Cut ultimately never slices things as sharply as it attempts, but it’s definitely a cut above.