say your piece
155 30 OCTOBER 2003


Naked in New York
Ryan Tries Out a Dramatic Role in Muddled 'In the Cut'
By Jeremy Mathews

“In the Cut”
Screen Gems
Directed by Jane Campion
Screenplay by Jane Campion and Susanna Moore, based on Moore’s novel
Produced by Nicole Kidman and Laurie Parker
Starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh, Sunrise Coigney, Patrice O’Neal and Kevin Bacon
Rated R
(out of four)

“In the Cut” is supposed to be about, I don’t know, the ability to dive into commitment. And attraction to fear. And maybe a fear of attraction. And teaching in an inner-city high school. And reading To the Lighthouse, for some reason. Bogged down in all its unfocused material, the film grows murkier and murkier, only offering glimpses into what it’s aiming at via obtuse dialogue and bizarre dream sequences.

It’s partly a formulaic thriller and partly an attempt at high art, but works as neither.

Director Jane Campion shows moments with promise, but in the overall piece she drags a talented cast—notably Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo—through a stagnant story. We sense that there are characters, but then silly scenes of non-action, which eventually lead to stupid actions, grow tiresome. The heroine is clearly intelligent, yet the screenplay significantly breaks character, drastically shifting from paranoia to going through a door to doom.

Ryan appears in one of her few “serious” dramatic roles outside her familiar romantic comedies. Much has been made of Ryan’s nude sex scenes and her performance, which is strong and courageous. The problem is that nothing comes out of it.

Ryan plays Frannie, a New York teacher and writer who’s habitually unimpressed and unexcited with life. She’s working on a book on street slang, and meets one of her hip students (Sharrieff Pugh) at a local bar for lunch and a tutoring session. When she goes down to use the bathroom, she sees a girl giving a man a blow job. The next day, a detective comes to ask her about the girl, who was murdered shortly after she saw her.

Frannie couldn’t see the man in the dark, except for a tattoo on his wrists, which Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) also has. She doesn’t see fit to tell him or any other police officers this because then there wouldn’t be much of a film. So she starts having sex with him.

The seduction comes after a masked man assaults Frannie and Malloy re-enacts it in the bedroom. The combination of danger and intrigue arouses Frannie. She certainly believes Malloy is a corrupt philanderer. She believes it was him in the basement, and at least subconsciously suspects that he committed the murder.

The film is successful with creating the mood of people who relate sex with violence, but it’s unclear in its ultimate aim.

Jane Campion (“The Piano”) is a talented filmmaker and creates a well-executed directorial style. The film is shot with hand-held cameras and a low depth of field, creating a tight atmosphere and emphasizing the gritty city.

There are also dream sequences in black and white set on an ice-skating rink, recalling the meeting of Frannie’s parents. Her father, who was engaged, was looking at her mother, who was new in town. His fiancée was offended he was looking at another woman and threw back her ring. So he went and proposed to the mother within five minutes of introducing himself. To bring things back to the murders, all the victims have worn engagement rings before the killing. All the parallels get a bit heavy-handed after a while, and things like a pillar on the window and references to lighthouses don’t really go anywhere.

As a contrast to Frannie’s frigidness, Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Pauline, Frannie’s half sister nymphomaniac. She goes out of her way to seduce her married doctor, and anyone else she randomly falls in love with, then tells Frannie all about it.

The film isn’t constructed in any way that makes a cohesive work, so the best the film does is create some successful feelings and showcase its cast. The screenplay, written by Campion and Susanna Moore, who wrote the original novel, fails to get into the thoughts and emotions the same way that exploratory prose can.

So “In the Cut” leaves an empty feeling more than a comment on emptiness, fear and love.

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