In the Cut
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In the Cut

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The all too specific genre of ‘Erotic Thriller’ has found new life with the advent of the DVD. Now, films that had to restrain themselves in the theater, bending to the will of the MPAA, can release an unrated cut to DVD. This is the case with ‘In the Cut’, a tale of sex, violence and the failure of relationships. Frannie (Meg Ryan) is a somewhat inhibited teacher whose course in creative writing seems to fall mostly on deaf ears. She lives in the midst of the East Village, a section of New York’s Greenwich Village where the bohemian life style is still very much alive and well. This neighborhood becomes the back drop for a series of brutal and heinous murders where the young female victims are dismembered. Investigating the crimes is police detective James Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), a rough, almost vulgar man. When Frannie becomes involved with the detective the sexual sparks fly but little Frannie has doubts as to the real personality of Malloy. The film focuses on the erotic awakening of Frannie, how her mundane life is reignited but the lusty interludes with the course Mallory. She surrenders a bit too quickly, submitting to the carnal pleasures to the exclusion of much of her innate intelligence and common sense. Frannie is encouraged by her more liberated half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a free spirit trapped working for a little strip club. While the story line is basically interesting it falls short here. With the exception of Frannie, most of the characters are mere shadows of real people, there is little for the audience to bond with. I found my self more interested in the personally familiar streets of the Village than in the characters.

As a thriller the film misses the mark. While the story line of the dismembering serial killer infuses the film with a growing dread and tension, there is initially a lack of immediacy to the danger. Rather than grow organically it simmers and boils over suddenly. While this is normally a good thing for this genre In the Cut does not lay the foundation properly to maximize the effect. Without being able to identify with the characters the audience is left disconnected from the story. On the erotic side of the dual genre it does work a bit better. The initial intimate scene between Frannie and Malloy is sexually charged, a slow enveloping encounter that is almost mesmerizing in its intensity. These scenes are thankfully not overdone, something that would have immediately turned this film into the soft core faire found on late night cable.

This is an excellent cast but too often there is not enough for them to grab onto in order to give the performance they are capable of giving. Ryan is almost trying too hard here. She seems so willing to shed her successful role as the American Sweetheart persona that she can’t seem to get a handle on what would really motivate a woman like Frannie. She does handle the relationship with Ruffalo’s character well, she plays it as a woman so numbed by her routine life that she desperately craves a physical spark just to prove she’s alive. Ruffalo’s presentation of Malloy is almost one dimensional. He comes across as too vulgar. He’s speech, liberally peppered with expletives, is overly offensive. Most men would tone down such language, especially in front of a woman they are sexually attracted to, Ruffalo plays Mallory as someone that seems to go out of his way to be offensive. Perhaps that works in the context but I found it to detract from the work. Some of the best chemistry is between Ryan and Leigh. They really are believable as half-sisters. There is a natural shorthand to they dialogue, a familiarity with each other that allows the audience feel at home with them. Leigh plays Pauline just right. There is a danger with a supporting role like this to overplay the character, to make her too quirky. Instead Leigh reins in her portrayal of Pauline to one that is believable and realistic. There is also an uncredited role for Kevin Bacon as Frannie’s ex-boyfriend. He plays the role of the overworked, obsessive medical student, injecting a little humor to the faire.

In the some twenty years that Jane Campion has been directing she as produced some of my favorite films, The Piano and Angel at My Table. She has also been responsible for one of my least favorites, Holy Smoke. Unfortunately, the trend that Campion appears to be on is a declining one. She has always been a stylistic director, one that surrounds her actors with rich, full sets. Recently style has been overwhelming substance. Here the environment supplies the required dread but the actors seemed hemmed in, restrained in showing the talent they posses. The pacing seemed to drag too much. There is a lot of attempts at the needed exposition but too much is left to the last minute. I prefer a thriller where on subsequent viewings you can see the clues hidden just beneath the surface. The cinematography is excellent. Campion often pushes the color palette to favor a greenish tint that results in keeping the viewer off balance. The unusual inhabitants of the East Village realistically popular the background adding a strange setting for a strange movie, they move in and out of frame just as they do our perception in real life. As a life long New Yorker I really appreciated this little use of extras.

The DVD is fairly well done. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is clear and without flaw. The colors are well done with no edge enhancements noticeable in the many scenes that contrast light and dark. The audio is uneven. There are times when the rear speakers come to life and fill the room. Mostly they are dormant, barely registering the rich ambience of the city streets. While the center speaker provides the dialogue clearly the overall sound stage is unimpressive. There is a running commentary with the director and producer. For the most part Campion’s contribution is interesting, she details many of the technical details and decisions required to create the film. At times it seems that it is just a conversation between two girls, gossiping about recent events. Overall the film is an a fairly interesting art film for the masses but is not up to it’s own potential.

Post 2/22/04

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