The Cut (2003)
by Collin Kelley
by Jane Campion
Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo,
Jennifer Jason Leigh
1 hour 58 minutes
thing is for sure: You will NEVER think of Meg Ryan in the same way again
after you've seen her portrayal of Frannie Avery in Jane Campion's new
film In The Cut. Based on Susannah Moore's novel, this film is
somewhere between art house and mainstream serial killer flick.
Unfortunately, Campion (director of The Piano, The Portrait of A
Lady, and Sweetie) misses more than she hits with this mess of
a film. Nicole Kidman was originally cast to play Ryan's part, but with
this script (co-written by Campion and Moore) it wouldn't have made
much difference. Kidman has already proven she can strip herself to the
bone and play a variety of women on the edge. It was Meg Ryan's turn and
she obviously decided it was time to stop being America's sweetheart.
In this film, she wears hardly any make up, her hair is dark and limp, and
even that famous smile seems oddly dimmed. (And I haven't even gotten to
the hardcore sex scenes.)
Ryan plays Frannie, a teacher (possibly high school or freshman college
It's never said) who is writing a book (although it's never very
clear what the subject is - possibly on urban street life and slang). Her
morals are fairly loose as well. She sleeps around, but it's unfulfilling
and she finds herself masturbating (and this ain't faking it like When
Harry Met Sally, kids) and thinking about things she sees at seedy
bars. She's both a whore and repressed at the same time. She's letting one
of her students pass (although he is failing) for putting her into contact
with some of the urban underworld for her book. In one of the more
interesting aspects of the story, Frannie's friends seem to be a mixture
of pimps, strippers, and prostitutes.
Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me) shows up as a dirty-talking
detective named Malloy who is investigating a serial killer who likes to
"disarticulate" his victims and spray their blood around the
crime scene....it's fairly gruesome stuff. Of course Frannie falls for the
cop, then thinks he may be the killer. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Meg's
half- sister Pauline, turning in another slutty, boozy role she's become
quite adept at. Kevin Bacon shows up in a weird uncredited cameo as
Frannie's stalker ex-boyfriend who also seems circumspect in the killings.
There's also a big connection to Virginia Woolf's "To The
Lighthouse" which is used both as a visual and underlying theme to
The thing that bothered me is that Frannie's character is enigmatic to the
point of being almost one-dimensional. It's as if she's drowning in
herself and you get snatches of her as she comes to the surface. You get
nothing of her back history, save for the fact that her father ran out on
her and mother and produced a series of children, including Leigh's
character. Frannie's motivations throughout the film are not only bizarre,
but often just implausible. She runs toward danger that even a bimbo in Friday
the 13th Part 6 could see coming a mile away.
Campion uses a technique of showing how Frannie's parents met in a series
of flashbacks where the two are ice skating on a frozen pond, and while
this was probably in the 1960s it has an oddly 19th century
feel to it. There is one scene where her father skates by and cuts hard on
the ice and rather than water seeping through, it's blood. And during
another flashback he skates right through his bride, cutting off her head
and legs in another gross-out moment.
The other striking thing about this film is how nasty and gritty Jane
Campion makes New York. While everyone is gushing over NYC after 9/11,
Campion drives a nail straight through the heart of the sentiment. I
haven't seen NYC portrayed in such a nasty light in years. It was
brilliantly done. Anyone who has been to NYC lately or lives there will
know, it can still be a very dangerous place to be. Campion permeates the
film with a sense of creeping dread and you are always expecting something
horrible to happen to
someone any second - especially [to] Frannie, who seems to put herself in
the roughest places possible. There is also a very interesting series of
shots where Frannie is reading poetry that is displayed on the subway, and
each line is almost like a harbinger of what is to come next in the film.
The much talked about sex scenes between Ryan and Ruffalo are fairly
graphic and were actually edited down for the American release of the
film. There is full frontal nudity from both and one scene between them
that verges on porn.
So what does all this add up to? It's a beautiful film to watch (even in
its nastier moments), thanks to Campion's skills as an art house auteur.
She seems to paying homage to Klute, the classic starring Donald
Sutherland as a cop trying to stop a prostitute killer with the help of
victim in waiting, Jane Fonda (who won an Oscar for the role). Like Klute,
the serial killer plot in In The Cut seems to take a backseat to
the character study of Frannie and Detective Malloy, but Frannie is so
underwritten that is leaves Ruffalo's
Malloy to carry the film. He is divorced, concerned about his kids,
heavily invested in the serial killing case, but also VERY horny. He meets
his match with Frannie.
The ending of the film was significantly changed from the book, where
Frannie's character meets one of the most disturbing ends ever penned for
the page. In the film, she lives, but you almost wish she had not. By the
final moments, Campion seems to have given up on any kind of plot and just
seems to be throwing slow motion images and desperately trying to wrap it
all up. And what exactly does the title of the film mean? Is it a
reference to the serial killer, Frannie's deeply wounded psyche, or both?
Your guess is as good as mine.
by Collin Kelley 10/2003