Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jane Campion

Cast: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh, Kevin Bacon

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexuality including explicit dialogue, nudity, graphic crime scenes and language)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 10/22/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

With the sexual independence of the women of In the Cut comes fear. It isn't the kind of fear that we associate with our post-9/11 world—although writer/director Jane Campion and co-writer Susanna Moore (adapting her novel) certainly make parallels with a New York setting—but a deep-rooted insecurity. The threat is men. They are dangerous. They are childish. They lie, cheat, and kill—emotionally, psychologically, and physically. There's also an emptiness to their sex lives that comes as a direct result of this fear. Cynicism with the role of men in their lives and the lives of their loved ones has distanced them from emotion. The film's opening credits are underscored by a dissonant version of "Que Sera, Sera," and one can't help but think that this kind of innocent wonder isn't a part of this world. Here, sex and violence are coupled by desire, and romance is dead. Naïveté is a death wish, and trust is a costly luxury. The film is full of such imagery and thematic storytelling, but it's also a serial killer thriller, which gives the danger a primal immediacy but also means the burden of plot restrictions holding it down.

Frances Avery (Meg Ryan, in a highly effective internal performance) is an English teacher who loves writing, words, and sex. She meets with one of her students Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh) outside of the classroom at a local bar to discuss slang for a book she's writing. On one of those outings, she wanders downstairs looking for a bathroom but instead finds a man and woman in the middle of an intimate moment (although I suppose the intimacy of this specific encounter is arguable) and can't help but stand by and watch for a minute. When she returns, her student has left, and the next day, a detective named Malloy (Mark Ruffalo, effortlessly dark and untrustworthy) is waiting for her to ask a few questions about a murder. A woman's decapitated head was found in a garden outside of her apartment building. Frannie is attracted to this cop (perhaps because of his use of the word "disarticulated" to describe the victim), so later when he asks her out for a drink, her sister Pauline's (a sympathetically pathetic Jennifer Jason Leigh) advice only played a small role in her acceptance of the offer.

Another proposition is made on their date, and it's a telling discussion. In not too subtle (and particularly gratuitous) terms, Malloy tells Frannie that he will do anything to her; the only thing he will not do is hit her. The implication of that statement is that there's a promise of safety in it, as opposed to the world outside where a serial killer that uses a romantic symbol (an engagement ring) as a signature is on the loose. In the same scene, Malloy's partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici) shows similar vulgarity, but we learn he is not as passive in regards to outright violence. It's a continuation of the development of his immaturity from his first appearance when we saw him touting a water pistol. The other men in the film are equally suspicious, which serves as an extension of the theme as well as the plot requirements for the mystery of the killer's identity. Frannie's student at first seems only significant to the mystery with his obsession with and sympathy for serial killer John Wayne Gacy, but then he brings up the theme of desire as a driving force, implicitly linking the desire of this killer with the sexual desire felt by Frannie and consummated by her affair with Malloy.

One more man stands directly in Frannie's way in the form of a former lover named John Graham (another creepy turn for Kevin Bacon), who, like a despondent teenager, simply cannot let her go. Two inactive but still important men affect the women from the background. Pauline has been having an affair with a married man, whose wife eventually pushes a restraining order upon her. She relies on this man and even has romantic fantasies of marrying him. It's a naïve view, much like the love at first sight story of Frannie's mother, whose relationship with Frannie and Pauline's father started because he had wandering eyes. This story is told in idyllic flashback scenes of the couple ice skating, which eventually become a nightmare for Frannie. It only makes sense that a connection exists for her between her father and the killer, as she is convinced that her mother died of grief after he left her for yet another woman. The film itself has the look of a nightmarish dreamscape. Dion Beebe's cinematography gives us a view almost like tunnel vision at points. There's also the integration of visual thematic and emotional cues throughout, including a particularly affecting scene involving a gag gift that sings "I Think I Love You." And you don't need to be a student of Freud to grasp the symbolic suggestion of a red lighthouse.

Campion achieves a gloomy, unflinching portrayal of women in modern society with In the Cut. There's a mature acknowledgment of self-imposed and forced limitations on freedom for women, some that need overcoming and others that seem logical, inevitable offshoots. The climax of the film has to deal with the awkward and obligatory revelation of the killer and the transparent plot conventions that keep the mystery foggy, especially since it's clear that one character definitely should have been able to figure it out early on. It's a fascinating dissertation nonetheless, and one that's much appreciated within the tired genre.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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