Should I Watch..? 'In The Cut' (2003)
What's the big deal?
In The Cut is an erotic mystery thriller film released in 2003 and is based on the novel of the same name by Susanna Moore. Co-written and directed by Jane Campion, the film follows a shy American writer who gets involved with a detective investigating a series of gruesome murders. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Meg Ryan as the lead, in stark contrast to her usual repertoire of light-hearted romantic comedies. The film originally starred co-producer Nicole Kidman in the lead but due to going through her divorce with Tom Cruise at the time, felt unable to perform in the movie which features Ryan in a prolonged nude scene. While this garnered much press attention, it failed to transfer into box office receipts and went on to gross less than $24 million worldwide.
What's it about?
Writer and high school teacher Frannie Avery is at a Manhattan bar one night when she witnesses a woman in the bar's bathroom performing oral sex in a man with a distinctive tattoo on his wrist. The next day, she is interviewed by Detective Giovanni Malloy after a body part was found under her kitchen window in Manhattan. Despite her reservations and the boorish behaviour of Malloy's partner Detective Rodriguez, Frannie and Malloy soon begin a passionate affair in spite of the grisly circumstances of their initial meeting.
As the investigation into the murder continues, it emerges that the woman Frannie saw in the bar was the victim. Worse yet, she begins to suspect Malloy might be the killer himself after seeing his own tattoo - which matches that seen in the bathroom that night. Unable to stop herself seeing Malloy, who can Frannie trust as her suspicions grow that Malloy could be much more interested in her than she might want?
What's to like?
Sometimes, playing against type can be good for you. Ryan's performance actually saves the film from tanking altogether - despite her character's odd behaviour, Ryan gives a controlled and graceful performance as Frannie. There's no hint of the wholesome image Ryan has carefully cultivated over the years as this film is as far removed from the wholesome romances she's known for like You've Got Mail as I can imagine.
The film keeps a vey tight ship indeed, offering next to nothing in terms of clues or suspects to divert your attention away from the strange, blossoming relationship between Frannie and Malloy. Only the uncredited Bacon and Leigh have any star power among the rest of the cast and both of whom are underserved by the script. I suppose if, like me, you're not that good at murder mysteries then In The Cut is a wonderfully simple case to solve that boils down to two questions. Did Malloy do it and if not, who did? Rocket science, it ain't.
- Campion had been trying to direct this movie since 1996, a year after the book was first published. She even has a cameo as the waitress during Frannie and Malloy's first date.
- This is the first film Nicole Kidman has served as a producer on. She and Campion spent five years trying to develop the movie with Kidman in the lead role but by the time shooting started, Kidman was emotionally drained from her divorce proceedings and passed the role over to Ryan.
- The film has several passages of poetry including one by John Keats. Campion's next film Bright Star in 2009 featured Keats' relationship with Fanny Brawne as its central theme.
What's not to like?
Ruffalo's performance is uber-macho despite his silly-looking facial hair but it's cold and uninvolving - I couldn't see why someone like Frannie would be attracted to him with the level of interest she has. And I also felt the way Frannie evolved in the film completely implausible - how does a shy English tutor, who seeks solace in the poetry displayed on the New York subway, suddenly decide to engage in phone sex with someone she suspects of spending his free time chopping up other lonely women like her? As a bad stand-up comedian might say, what's that about?
I find myself asking the same question regarding the direction. Campion knows her craft - anyone who has seen the beautiful The Piano will tell you that - but she floods the movie with crazy, abstract use of shadow that obscures much of what's going on. I also felt somewhat bemused by the repetition of scenes featuring the Victorian-era ice skaters and the odd little world they inhabited which didn't have much bearing on the film at all. But my biggest problem with In The Cut is that it badly wants to be Basic Instinct and frankly, the world have moved on from Sharon Stone's bisexual femme fatale. Ryan's nudity simply felt like pushing the envelope for the sake of cheap publicity (Halle Berry did the same trick in Swordfish and to much the same effect) and Paul Verhoeven's exploitative thriller proved so influential that Hollywood was awash with third-rate clones like this one. It might want to be taken seriously with its arty shots of wind-chimes but I'm afraid the film is too slow, predictable and boring to recommend.
Should I watch it?
I can't honestly say that In The Cut made much of an impression on me, given its sheer desperation to be taken seriously as an erotic thriller. But like so many others sharing that description, it's neither - the story is woefully short and one dimensional while the naughty bits lack any sort of chemistry or sexual dynamic at all. Ryan does her best but I reckon she'd be better sticking to her traditional territory of slushy rom-coms opposite Tom Hanks.
Good For: shy English tutors, bored housewives, teenage boys with access to a pause button
Not So Good For: thrill seekers, Meg Ryan's career, anyone looking for a decent Basic Instinct clone
What else should I watch?
If you're looking for a quality erotic thriller then there really is only one place to start. The massively influential and trashy Basic Instinct might look old-fashioned these days but back in the early Nineties, it changed everything. It still retains much of its original power to shock and Sharon Stone has never been better as the larger-than-life serial killer with brains and looks to kill. Stay away from Basic Instinct 2, though - it couldn't be any less erotic if it was wearing a pair of waders.
Other films worth considering are Body Heat, Kathleen Turner's show-stopping debut in an old-school film-noir and Drew Barrymore's seductive thriller Poison Ivy. But there is an awful lot of dross out there from Bruce Willis' hideous misfire Color Of Night to Madonna's horribly self-indulgent Body Of Evidence. Consider yourself warned.
Det. Giovanni Malloy
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Det. Richard Rodriguez
John Graham (uncredited)
Jane Campion & Susanna Moore *
Release Date (UK)
31st October, 2003
Erotic, Mystery, Thriller
© 2015 Benjamin Cox