In The Cut

Movie Information

Genre: Mystery Thriller
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Kevin Bacon
Rated: R

Let’s face it, In the Cut — publicity-wise — is really about the utterly perky, utterly cute, utterly clean Meg Ryan popping her top. So let me assure you straight off that, yes indeed, this does occur. And, yes, Ryan actually does have breasts — which, I’m sure, has been a very troubling concern for many moviegoers (said people can breathe easier now).

Truth to tell, whatever can be said pro or con about the film (and it’s mostly con), In the Cut cannot be faulted on the level of sexual frankness. What you find here isn’t in the same league as Halle Berry collecting a huge bonus for 20 seconds of skin in Swordfish, but more along the lines of Kathleen Turner in Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion — and it’s an undeniably brave move on Ryan’s part, not just a titillating gimmick. Sexuality is the film’s core, and neither Ryan nor director Jane Campion shy away from it. Unfortunately, all this steaminess is housed in one of the most-botched mystery thrillers imaginable. Arriving as it does hot on the heels of Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, I am ready to conclude that the mystery film is now a lost art.

Apparently, the insistence on mysteries that are “more” than simple whodunits (Robert Altman’s Gosford Park to one side) has rendered the question of who perpetrated what into some kind of pesky footnote to be endured by the filmmaker. I’ve seen 62-minute Charlie Chan movies where the detective’s quaint pronouncement, “You are murderer,” carried more surprise than the “shocking” revelations dispensed by these recent genre efforts. It’s almost as if recent filmmakers are announcing their superiority to the mystery genre by not bothering with what is traditionally the key question in such a film. If that’s the idea, then these directors would be better advised to drop the whole mystery pretense, because the transparent solutions don’t convey superiority so much as they smack (at best) of basic ineptitude or (at worst) of contempt for the viewer’s intelligence.

In the Cut is by far the winner in jaw-dropping lameness in the mystery department — the essential clue to the killer’s identity is a tattoo glimpsed by heroine Frannie (Ryan) when she chances upon the killer and his victim involved in an activity that — shall we say — doesn’t usually lead to murder and dismemberment (or “disarticulation,” as the script calls it). So what does the movie manage to toss at us by way of red herrings? A former boyfriend (played by an uncredited Kevin Bacon) and a black high-school student (Sharrieff Pugh, Trigger Happy)! One might reasonably presume that Ryan’s character would be sufficiently familiar with her ex’s anatomy that she’d know whether or not he was festooned with this particular piece of body art, while there’s just no way the arm we see could possibly belong to the student (who would have had to defy some basic scientific laws, and be in two places at the same time in any case). This so effectively thins the herd of suspects that it’s hard to miss the fellow that Inspector Chan would have “decorated with legal jewelry” in the last reel of a classic-era whodunit. Of course, here nothing so decorous as an arrest is likely to occur, because such would not be grubby enough for the Lower Depths artistic pretensions at work in Campion’s film.

It’s been said that In the Cut attempts to walk the line between a mainstream movie and an art-house offering. In truth, the only thing mainstream is Ryan, and the movie more truthfully walks the line between art-house fare and exploitation flick — a far-less ambitious notion. And that line has always been easier to cross than might seem apparent, since exploitation producers rarely care what a filmmaker does, so long as that director provides the requisite amount of skin, gore and whatever else the marketing concept deems necessary.

In the art department, Campion has loaded her film with unsteady, handheld camerawork, dim lighting and a depth-of-field so shallow that an actor’s eye may be in focus, but his or her nose will not. The director has also fleshed out the proceedings with singularly bizarre, black-and-white fantasy flashbacks to the ice-skating courtship of Frannie’s parents — which, judging by the costuming and the hyped speed of the action, appears to have taken place somewhere around 1912. Just why a character in 2003 — who was born, presumably, somewhere around 1960 — would think of her parents’ courtship in these quaint terms is far more mysterious than the identity of the movie’s killer. Which brings us to Campion’s embrace of the exploitation film, from which she seems primarily to have drawn a complete disregard for logic and characterization.

Very little of what happens in In the Cut holds up to even the most cursory of scrutiny. Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) is the most unprofessional and inept investigator in the history of the mystery genre. Not only does he never really question or act upon Frannie’s story, but her tale clearly tells him who the murderer is. Yet he spends the entire movie — including the ending — apparently oblivious to all this. Similarly, Frannie lets go of the question of the identifying tattoo — just like the one sported by Malloy — far too easily. But what do you expect in a film where the killer just happens to have a secret lair in a lighthouse in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge? And where we are treated to a brazenly utilitarian — and otherwise wholly arbitrary — shooting lesson for the heroine (not to mention that the scene allows a gun to be conveniently planted for later use)? Where clunky symbolism involving engagement rings is brought into play and then dropped?

All of this could be forgiven if Campion had set out to make a fun, junky thriller — but that’s not at all the case. In the Cut is obviously meant to be some kind of Important Statement, but I’ve yet to work out what it’s trying to say — unless that, in the movie’s latter half, it’s supposed to be demonstrating how to make minutes fly by like hours. What’s especially frustrating is that Ryan’s performance is worth seeing, and In the Cut boasts some incredible imagery — not to mention the refreshing sexual frankness. Yet it’s all encased in one huge, slow mess of a movie.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “In The Cut

  1. Barry

    Not too long ago I read the source novel for this, which left me with some of the same bewilderment you express about the movie: namely, why was this book written? To demonstrate the hopelessness of thinking clearly when one’s genitalia are engaged? What impressed me most about the book was the adroit way it is narrated by a character who dies in the end (not like Meg). That was neat trick.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.