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In the Cut (2003)
OK, can I gush? This one is criminally underrated, folks. (On reflection, perhaps I should have titled this “In Defense of In the Cut.”)
When it was released In the Cut was met with an abundance of negative reviews, it quickly fell of the radar, and many claim it almost completely destroyed Meg Ryan’s career. I just don’t understand! Meg Ryan gives a pitch perfect performance – she is nothing short of a revelation and has never been better. When I watch this film I don’t see Meg Ryan. I see Frannie Avery – a teacher, a writer, a fully realized, living, breathing woman with a rich inner life. This is much more than just an actress venturing outside of her comfort zone – this is phenomenal work that quite honestly leaves me in awe. I cannot say enough positive things. Luckily, it speaks for itself.
Jennifer Jason Leigh also does her (usual) fabulous thing, playing Frannie’s sister, Pauline. The relationship these two women share feels vitally, achingly, intimately real. The scenes in which it is just the two talking to each other are some of the best moments in the film.
This is without a doubt one of the most uniquely photographed films I’ve ever seen – it is gorgeous and abstract and a marvel to behold. We are presented with a wholly unique and startling vision – images which create a language and a world of their own. Equally sinister and sensual, crystal clear and distorted. But it isn’t just pretty to gawk at – the look of the film is an essential component in a work which deals with varying themes of vision – what we see, how we see it, how we interpret it, how we are impacted by it.
The film benefits from the participation of Susanna Moore (the author responsible for the equally splendid novel that inspired this film) who cowrote the script with Jane Campion. When I first heard the ending of the novel had been discarded and deemed “unfilmable” I felt it was a major cop out and I was disappointed. The ending of the novel, in all of its bleak tragedy, was the only ending I could imagine to this story. Well, it turns out I do like the film’s ending. While one could surely complain that it is nothing buck a tacked on conventional Hollywood climax, they wouldn’t be exactly right. I don’t think the novel’s ending would have worked here. The ending we get instead is a beautifully skewered, off balance tweaking of conventional thrillers. This film knows the rules but skirts the line. It is an ending the film most certainly earns and it never feels trite or forced. Indeed it reminds us that this sort of climax can be pulled off when done properly. While this film does in some instances deviate greatly from the source material, it still FEELS like a faithful adaptation – they get so much right and while the two are in the end very different, they beat with the same heart. This the film most effectively succeeds in capturing – the heart, the spirit – of the story. I’ve rarely seen an adaptation that has done this so well.
Many naysayers have derided the film for failing to follow the prototype of the standard police/serial killer procedural. I find that complaint petty and baseless. There are crime scenes, there is violence, there are continual threats and red herrings thrown at our heroine, there are bodies discovered, there is blood. The reason we are not fully immersed in the investigation is not because it is an inconsequential conceit, but because the main character is not a police officer – she is not working to solve the case – she is on the outside, and so this, too, is where we are. I think In the Cut does work as a thriller and one that is ultimately more tantalizing and intriguing because of the emotional investments. I didn’t want the film to be overtaken by the mechanics of the investigation. It isn’t necessary and it would not work.
I think people were expecting this to be something it wasn’t. For some strange reason Jane Campion appears to be seen as a director who coddles, who soothes, who pacifies. In the Cut has none of that. Meg Ryan isn’t playing her usual perky romantic role and critics and audiences largely rejected her portrayal of a serious, intelligent woman. I’ve already said that I think she is quite amazing and I cannot imagine anyone who would have done better. The enticement of Meg Ryan appearing nude was a subject of major fixation before the film even made it into theaters. I can see that if one goes into this expecting something along the lines of Seven with a naked Meg Ryan frolicking about, that they would be blindsided.
The ravages of love, the cost of of it, what price we pay when we cannot love or choose not to – in this film these are things far more deadly than any murderer.
One day Frannie returns home to her apartment to find a detective waiting for her. His name is Malloy (Mark Ruffalo, even making a mustache look sexy) and he is canvassing the neighborhood. A woman was murdered and her head was found in the garden outside Frannie’s window. Malloy intrigues her. Is it because she thinks he is the same man she came upon getting a blowjob in a dark downstairs room, when she was looking for the bathroom in a bar? She couldn’t see his face, but he definitely saw her. Malloy has the same tattoo on his wrist that Frannie noticed on that man. The murdered woman wasn’t just murdered, Malloy tells Frannie – she was “disarticulated.” An especially intriguing and horrifying notion for Frannie – she so in love with language, she who is writing a book on slang, some of which her students supply her with.
Frannie has a neurotic, obsessive lover (played by an uncredited Kevin Bacon) who is semi-stalking her – but is he dangerous or just not easily dissuaded?
Malloy finds out that Frannie was in the same bar that the murdered woman was at on the night she was killed. The same bar in fact, where Frannie believes she glimpsed Malloy. He asks Frannie to get a drink with him. Is he dangerous? Does he recognize her? Is he playing some sort of game?
I appreciated the relationship between Malloy and his partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici) who carries a water pistol in lieu of a real gun. The interactions between these two men is an especially interesting flip side in contrast to the bond Pauline and Frannie share. The scene in which Frannie and Malloy meet for drinks and attempt to feel each other out is exceptionally well done. The way it turns from Malloy half questioning Frannie again about being at the bar, to him telling her that he can be whatever she wants him to be – a romantic who takes her to a nice restaurant, maybe a best friend who fucks her – and that the only thing he won’t do is hit her. But as their relationship intensifies and more murders occur, Frannie begins to suspect he is capable of much worse.
Frannie is far from just a repressed old maid who is literally ready to die for a fuck (as some have suggested). She is strong and sympathetic and most of all, human. She is not stupid. Yes, she takes risks she should not, yes, she sometimes behaves recklessly, and yes, she is not always rational – but who among us isn’t guilty of acting similarly when burning blindly with passion? B+