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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