Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

The first strong female performance of 2003 has arrived. Each member of the Academy should be forced to view Meg Ryan’s vigorous portrayal of a New York teacher (and nymphomaniac). To see her in this light is not just shocking – it is intense and more importantly sexy. It’s deserving of at least an Oscar nomination, if not a win. Having starred in several romantic comedies, she has been perceived as one of America’s sweethearts. But here, the actress breaks out and reveals a new side. She decides to courageously turn wild child in director Jane Campion’s raw thriller “In the Cut.”

Who better to direct an erotic thriller than Jane Campion? She seems to know a thing or two about showing skin and inserting sexuality as themes in most of her films. It has almost become her trademark. Some say it’s in the way she writes these complex tales and others in the style in which she frames them. Either way, there is a poetic vibe in the movement of her images. But as much as style can be cordial in a movie like “In the Cut”, there needs to be a thickening plot to hold our interest and, luckily, there is.

Mark Ruffalo plays a self-confident detective, James Malloy, who happens to be investigating a series of disturbing murders. The finding of a severed human limb leads him to Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan), a high school English teacher. Frannie is an atypical character. She is reserved, innocent-looking, but has more sexual fantasies than a thirteen year old who discovers Playboy for the first time. She tries hard to be someone who is unadulterated. She makes efforts to look like she can live with her single-self, but she can’t.

Malloy and Avery get closer as the case widens. They let themselves go and end up making passionate sex. This is a dangerous move, to mix pleasure with work, according to the classic cop thrillers. It is a faux-pas. But this is part of Campion’s method to make us fear truth. The intrigue quickly kicks in when Frannie begins to suspect Malloy of being more than just a good cop and an exceptional lover. She believes he may be the killer in question.

Meg Ryan has never been this brave and unafraid to expose her shape. She has never been this sure to live in a seductive role. But with Campion in command, we usually get a different side of lust and the stars.

In an interview with critic Rich Cline, Campion commented on the main character. She had an image of someone with straight hair, with bangs, and while she was working on Ryan’s psyche, they both came across a particular t-shirt. Ryan explains: “Jane and I were walking around the city and we saw this nihilistic cartoon character called Emily the Strange on a t-shirt. I always thought she’d have brown eyes and brown hair. And everything contributes; I dyed my hair and I could walk around New York without being recognized! She really needed to be one of those invisible women, not a head turner.” This is evidence that inspiration, whether humorous or serious, can come from anywhere, at anytime or any place and can contribute to something so profound.

Campion co-wrote the screenplay with Susanne Moore, who also wrote the book the film is based on. “In the Cut” is a haunting film, well-acted, cloaked in dark scenery, ongoing in a city made to look like hell. And in the middle is the cop-witness relationship which reminds me of a customized anecdote: a lady asks a cop, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you happy to see me?” The cop replies, “Both.”


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