In The Cut Review
Frannie Thorstin (Meg Ryan) is a feminist poet and professor of creative writing at a New York university. She's also a woman who prefers to keep life at arm's length. Her only close relationship is with her half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a bohemian nymphomaniac who lives above a strip club. Frannie's last romantic attachment was to intense medical intern John Graham (Kevin Bacon), who she dumped and whose persistent attempts to win her back are crossing the line into stalking. Aside from a very casual friendship with one of her writing students (Sharrief Pugh), hers is a quiet and solitary existence. It's shaken up when she returns home one day to find homicide detective Giovanni Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) waiting by her apartment door. A woman's body has been found dismembered outside her building, her head directly beneath Frannie's window. It later transpires that Frannie may have been one of the last people to see the victim alive. Visiting the bathroom in a local tavern, she'd spied on the woman giving oral sex to a silhouetted man. He may have been her killer.
After meeting detective Malloy a few times on a professional basis, Frannie is surprised when he asks her out. At Pauline's urging she agrees to go on a date with him and she finds herself both attracted and repelled by this hard-nosed, working class policeman who could be her polar opposite. Their relationship soon becomes passionately physical, though emotionally Frannie keeps her distance. There's something she doesn't trust about him. Meanwhile, Graham continues to show up, his behaviour more and more disturbing, and her student Cornelius turns in a project about a famous serial killer, decorated with blood. When a second woman is butchered at her university, Frannie starts to wonder if the killer is someone she knows.
There's a lot to admire about In The Cut, which is directed by Jane Campion, who made The Piano and The Portrait Of A Lady. Visually it's brilliant, an amazingly vivid study of life in New York. Campion, a Kiwi, captures the essence of the city as well as Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee could. As a character study, it's often fascinating. Frannie is a wholly original creation and Meg Ryan disappears into the role, giving a performance unlike anything we've seen from her before. There's been much publicity about the nudity Ryan agreed to do, which is surprisingly extensive, but it shouldn't overshadow the best work of her career. The sexual material is very strong, rare for a Hollywood movie and it's even rarer to see one which deals with sexuality so wisely. This isn't a film about pretty people having mind-blowing sex with each other because it says so in the script. For once we completely understand the psychological mechanics of the relationship.
Unfortunately In The Cut is a case of the impressive parts not adding up to a satisfying whole. What lets it down is the murder mystery plot everything else is hung on. This is the most basic whodunnit imaginable - it's TV stuff, based on coincidence, contrivance, obvious red herrings and a cheap surprise revelation. Certain characters, including Kevin Bacon's, have no purpose other than to potentially be the killer. In the case of Detective Malloy, this works against the film dramatically since it means we can't get to know him. Mark Ruffalo does an excellent job of evoking a New York cop but he's held back. The plot's not even credible. There's at least one scene where the killer couldn't have gotten to a certain place at a certain time without arousing suspicion and if the first victim gave him a blow job before she died, why didn't the cops have his DNA?
Maybe the mystery is beside the point but why include it? Why not have Frannie and Malloy thrown together by a random killing and explore their relationship without the limits imposed by a thriller? Is In The Cut supposed to be a feminist comment on crime fiction in which murdered women are just plot points? Then why follow the formula to the letter? Are Campion and Moore expressing contempt for the genre and for its audience? If so, they're being unfair. Clint Eastwood's Mystic River proved that a murder mystery can transcend its genre without cheating the material. Young Adam effectively integrated a whodunnit into a mature adult drama. In both those films, the final revelation added to the drama. When In The Cut's murderer is eventually unmasked, he's just another Hollywood psycho who cuts up women because it says so in the script.