A lot of people when witnessing “In the Cut”, the new suspense drama from director Jane Campion (“The Piano”), will wonder where Meg Ryan went and what she has become upon her return to the silver screen. Maybe it’s a butterfly returning to the cocoon to become a larva. Whatever it is, it’s a shocking but poignant metamorphose for the actress.
Ryan plays Frannie, a withdrawn, well-educated teacher who lives in a flophouse in the heart of New York City. Frannie’s life is fueled by her passion for the written word. Her apartment is laced with notes with favorite sayings and quotes. Each day she looks forward to reading a new poem or quote on the advertisements in the subway. Frannie loves her life the way it is. Until one day when Detective Malloy came knocking.
It seems that Malloy found a young woman murdered in Frannie’s neighborhood and he needs some information from Frannie. Their chemistry was evident from the get-go and eventually with advice from Frannie’s promiscuous sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh); Frannie has an affair with Malloy.
What is the dynamic of the affair? Is Frannie seeking protection from the demons in her neighborhood? Is it just the comfort of someone in her bed? Or is there something more dark and sinister happening to this lonely teacher who used to love her life.
Jane Campion’s “In the Cut” is laced with all the typical Campion language and sexual metaphors and some more blatantly obvious than in her previous films. Like her previous film “Up in Smoke” she doesn’t shy away from nudity, explicit sex and pushing her actors till they break. Campion’s women have always been the showcase of her pieces and that is evident with the amazing portrayal given by Ryan.
Campion’s faults have always been her development of daft men. All her men have always been aggressive, abusive and vulgar. This even dates all the way back to Harvey Keitel’s performance in Campion’s Oscar winning “The Piano”.
Like all Campion films there isn’t one male performer who we like in the whole piece. I was half hoping Ryan would go all Tarrantino on these guys.
Back to Ryan’s performance, it is probably the most flawless performance of her career. Ryan hasn’t had much luck with playing more serious and dramatic parts but this is truly a landmark. You know what goes on inside this character’s head and it tears you up inside because you want to protect and care for her as it seems nobody in the film can.
The conventions of the murders, the framework of the mystery, the vulgar nature of the male characters and an absolute ridiculous ending are all punishing pitfalls that lay into “In the Cut”. Campion has once more built herself an amazing central female lead but has forgotten about structuring credible dynamic around her. And that in itself makes this film so utterly painful to watch.
This story and world seems to be a cerebral canvas that has failed to enter a visual medium. With so much at stake with Frannie there should have been more intrigue and intensity but instead the film comes off as a deconstruction of one strong woman in an extraordinary time. This deconstruction seems fueled by her sexual behavior and dissention into paranoia and uncertainty.
“In the Cut” fails as an erotic thriller and becomes the perfect example of a Campion film. Rough, rugged, erotic and quite out there with intelligent and strong women and daft hormonal men.
Ryan is phenomenal but sadly it’s the only remarkable thing in a lucid Jane Campion film.
(2 out of 5)
So Says the Soothsayer.