Probably the nicest thing that can be said about this film is to say that it is a mildly interesting failure. Regrettably, the emphasis must be placed less on “mildly interesting” and much more on “failure.” Don’t know how someone who made films as interesting as Sweetie (1989), An Angel at My Table (1990 / trailer) and The Piano (1993 / trailer) ever ended up producing a film like this one, but then, Alfred Hitchcock also made Topaz (1969 / trailer), an equally incomprehensible filmic slip-up – sometimes, shit happens.
Supposedly, New-Zealand-born (but Australian-residing) Jane Campion had been wanting to make this film since the book it was based on – Susanna Moore's novel of the same name – came out in 1996. Perhaps the book has something to it that the film lacks, for minus the occasional artsy interludes (specifically: the dream and memory sequences involving a skating couple, the parents of Frannie (Meg Ryan) – which are also the best scenes in the entire film) the film is really not that much more than a well shot but misfired contemporary imitation of a typically sleazy mid-1970s Italian giallo film, only with a low body count and without the bad dubbing and killer in black gloves, the kind of film in which you know who the murderer is because (s)he always has the least screen time.
In the Cut is available in two versions, an R-rated or an unrated DVD. The unrated might be slightly infamous for its close-up of a blowjob (an obvious [uncircumcised] dildo to anyone with the slightest of knowledge), but the scene adds little to the film. Had it been a long shot (with, perhaps, digital enhancement of the oh-so-important fingernails), its inclusion could be justified; but as a close-up it comes across less as a necessity than as a cheap attempt to shock in a film that seems to want to shock but, for the most part, reminds one of a little boy telling a dirty joke that he doesn’t understand. (Odd, actually, seeing how many women were involved in the production.) The sex scenes between Frannie and Dt. Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) are a bit longer in the uncut version, too, but unless your particular hot to see Meg Ryan naked, the additional seconds don’t add much either. (Which isn’t to say that Meg Ryan doesn’t look good naked: her character may have the expressiveness if wet dishrag, but she is still a good looking wet dishrag.)
The plot is rather by the numbers, but just has a bit more sex thrown in for titillation. Frannie is a frustrated but sexually active creative writing teacher whose very sexual activity (and inability to commit) seems to doom her to an unsatisfying life (an oddly puritan attitude, in truth). Soon after she witnesses a blowjob in the basement of a bar, the head of the blower later turns up in the garden of the NYC tenement she lives in. (As is typical of almost any and all films that take place in NYC, almost everyone in the film, no matter what their income, lives alone in apartments that are easily ten times the size of any apartments of anyone you know who lives in NYC – hell, they’re bigger than mine here in Berlin, which is 130 qm.) An NYC detective named Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) literally turns up at her doorstep asking questions; the dead woman is only the latest victim of a serial killer that "disarticulates" women. Although Frannie didn’t see the blowee’s face, she did see his hand, and he sported a cheap tattoo just like that Malloy has on his hand. In no time flat the two be bonking away, despite the fact that he treats her rather like shit and she, in turn, thinks he might be the murderer. (Another typically American attitude: he bonks all of two times and then starts talking marriage.) Frannie’s best friend is her younger half-sister Pauline (an as-always excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh), but as to be expected she gets "disarticulated", too. Still, Malloy puts it “in the cut” one more time before Frannie suddenly decides he is indeed the murderer and runs off to even greater endangerment…
The murderer of In the Cut is so obvious from the beginning that to call the film a mystery thriller is a lie, for there is truly no mystery other than that Frannie must have incredibly selective eyesight when it comes to tattoos. Indeed, when it comes to the mystery the film is pretty much an insult to the intelligence of the viewer – anyone with half a brain can figure out which of the three most-likelies is the definite killer even through Campion continually hides the tell-tale tattoo although it should be obvious to anyone with eyes (including Frannie).
To give credit where credit is due, the film is wonderfully shot and composed, as are all Campion’s films. Likewise, with the exception of both the killer and Meg Ryan, the acting is in general excellent – assholes such as Dt. Malloy actually come across as real assholes, and Pauline conveys an oddly touching sensitivity that does much to make her the most likable person in the movie. Contrary to popular opinion, Ryan can act and in some of her films she even manages to give her good girls a level of depth not really required for her normal film product. But in In the Cut, Ryan seems to confuse not acting with acting, and gives Frannie the blank expressiveness of a post-lobotomized idgit. OK, she manages to get a bit of life into the scenes where she discovers her dead half-sister, but the rest of the time she comes across like someone with liquid Prozac as blood. Not good.
Just like the film, actually…