Review by Dustin Putma
4 stars out of 4
Based on the novel by Susanna Moore, "In the Cut" is a fascinating
psychological character study wrapped in a murder mystery where the
identity of the villain hardly seems to be the point. Although it
will likely displease and bewilder filmgoers used to the more conventional
side of cinematic thrillers, it holds so much depth, so much innovation,
and such a crystal-clear vision of what its intentions are, that more
learned film buffs are in for a treat. And, as written and directed
by Jane Campion (1993's "The Piano"), "In the Cut" is pitch-black
in its to ne and admirably uncompromising in its character portrayals
and narrative details. It is easily one of the most hauntingand bestmotion
pictures of the year.
In a startling change from her usual frothy romantic comedies, Meg
Ryan (2001's "Kate & Leopold") has delivered the kind of powerful,
three-dimensional, courageous performance that expands and strengthens
careers (think Nicole Kidman, who produces here). Ryan has gotten
much publicity for baring it all here, and that she does, but what
is so very astonishing and risque about her Oscar-worthy turn has
nothing to do with nudity.
In her portrayal of English professor Frannie Thorstin, Meg Ryan has
shed her blonde hair and perky demeanor for a faded brown mop and
an imploding personality whose stark realism cuts right to the bone.
Frannie, who is an intelligent lover of words, discovers at the most
seemingly inopportune time in her life that she has a sexual hunger
that has gone unsatisfied for too long. After witnessing a man in
shadow receiving oral gratification in the basement of a New York
City bar, Frannie's pent-up sex drive gets a sudden fetishistic jump-start
of its own. Unfortunately, her attraction toward Detective Giovanni
Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) surfaces just as his investigation into a local
serial killerparts of whose latest victim was found in Frannie's gardenleads
him to her. As the killer threatens to strike again, Frannie embarks
on an exceedingly dangerous sexual relationship with Malloy, despite
her better judgment and the rising suspicions that the psychopath
in question may very well be him.
What Meg Ryan has done in her complex, demanding role of Frannie is
not a cheap ploy to be taken seriously as an actress. If such an achievement
occurs, more power to her. What Ryan has really done, however, is
created a true-to-life, flawed character, and done it flawlessly.
Her Frannie is not n aive; she recognizes that her sexual dealings
are unhealthy and her relationship with Malloy is inappropriate, but
she gains a sort of carnal satisfaction and internal strength from
her own discovered masochism that is difficult for her to give up.
In what looks to have been emotionally draining, Meg Ryan gives one
of the year's most brilliantly fascinating performances.
And for writer-director Jane Campion, she has crafted a challenging
piece of work that falls somewhere between art and entertainment,
while garnering the right to be both. Along with top-notch cinematographer
Dion Beebe (2002's "Chicago"), Campion evokes a dreamlike quality
to the proceedings as Frannie delves into matters she is inexperienced
in and unsure about, but that may have serious, life-changing repercussions.
The camerawork, intentionally jittery and seemingly at a constant
struggle to capture focus, effectively foreshadows Frannie's per sonal
journey, and aids in the uncomfortable atmosphere. Moments of symbolism,
including a recurring running bystander on the street, a bride with
a cast on her arm, and wordless black-and-white flashbacks to Frannie's
parents ice-skating on the day they got engaged, avoid pretentiousness
and rely on the power of their indelible images and the subtlety in
getting their existential purposes across.
The meticulously chosen music also plays a major role in the film,
opening with a wistful version of "Que Sera Sera" that acts as a cogent
contrast for what is to follow. A beautifully written and acted sequence
between Frannie and close half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
garners even more humanistic weight with the use of Annie Lennox's
"Waiting in Vain." And the way in which "I Think I Love You" plays
a disturbing role in a despairing scene near the end is downright ingenious.
Enriching Meg Ryan's startling work even more is the support she gets
from two other supe rb performances by Mark Ruffalo (2003's "View
from the Top") and Jennifer Jason Leigh (2002's "Road to Perdition").
As Detective Malloy, Ruffalo hits every note perfectly in creating
the right balance between suave, seductive coolness and a more threatening
underlying side. Leigh brings sympathy and a quiet mournfulness to
Pauline, whose desperate attempts to find her one true love has gotten
stalking charges put on her.
Although the identity of the killer is unveiled at the climax of "In
the Cut," it almost comes as a sidenote to the real conflict facing
Frannie, whose life has spiraled out of control as a result of her
quest for sexual fulfillment and a need for personal purpose in her
everyday life. Throughout the film, Frannie gains further satisfaction
by reading the poetry postings on the walls of the subway car. What
star ts as a hobby, however, gradually becomes a statement as the
lines become intermingled with what is occurring in her own life.
It is just another lovely little detail in a motion picture rich with
ideas, exact characterizations, and visual artistry. "In the Cut"
is a major cinematic achievementsimultaneously heartbreaking, frightening,
unpredictable, sexy, grim, provocative and eerily plausible.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putma