Meg Ryan as Frannie Thorstin
Mark Ruffalo as Detective Malloy
Jennifer Jason Leigh as Pauline
Nick Damici as Detective Rodriguez
Sharrieff Pugh as Cornelius Webb
Sunrise Coigney as Frannie’s Young Mother
Susan Gardner as Perfect Wife
Heather Litteer as Angela Sands
Frank Harts as Frannie’s Student
Patrice O’Neal as Hector, Baby Doll Bouncer
Zach Wegner as Frannie’s Student
Frannie Thorstin (Meg Ryan) is a lonely English professor who doesn’t get out much. And who can blame her? After all, the last guy she slept with (Kevin Bacon) has developed an unhealthy obsession with her that has him leaving rambling messages on her answer machine. Lucky for her, a woman turns up dead and dismembered in her neighborhood, giving her the chance to meet the dreamy, smooth-talking Police Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo). After being attacked by a mugger, she allows him to seduce her, and their sexual relationship heats up, but as he tries to find the killer, she begins to suspect that he might be more involved with the murdered woman than he is letting on.
Adapted from the novel by Susanna Moore, director Jane (The Piano) Campion’s latest is an erotic thriller that tries to add a bit of style and flair to a genre in which it has gotten too easy to cut corners. Campion pays liberal homage to some of the best-known suspense thrillers of the 70’s and 80’s from Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill to Basic Instinct, while examining the relationship between two very different people brought together by circumstance.
The story itself is nothing special, pretty much your typical murder mystery crime drama, but the realistic characters and their frank and unrestrained discussions about sex turns the movie into an interesting look at the vicious cycle of being single in New York City, from loneliness and relationships, to romance and seduction, to sex and obsession.
The story is seen through the eyes of Meg Ryan’s Frannie and the various relationships in her life. On the one side, she has a promiscuous half-sister, played by a thriller veteran in Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is obsessed with a married doctor, and then there’s her eager-to-please African American student who has a strange fascination with serial killers.
Ryan’s portrayal of Frannie is amazing, as she captures the loneliness and the guarded nature of being a single woman in a city where every guy seems to be interested in you for the wrong reasons. It is not a glamorous role, as she begins the movie dressed rather drably, and over the course of the movie, she’s attacked, bruised and bloodied. By the end of the film, she has spiraled so far down the abyss that she’s almost unrecognizable as the pragmatic professor that opens the movie. It’s a refreshing change from Ryan’s normal cookie cutter role and like Diane Lane’s performance in Unfaithful, it proves that there are still good roles for older women and strong actresses that can pull it off.
Though not nearly as experienced, Mark Ruffalo keeps pace with her, turning Detective Malloy into a more of a three-dimensional than you would expect from a street-touch cop that is so easily distracted from his case. His passionate smooth talking character might be compared to Mickey Rourke’s memorable performance in 9 1/2 Weeks, but when you begin to think you have him sussed, he shows a more compassionate side.
Despite the impressive performances and the decent chemistry between the two, the movie falls flat when it comes to the story and the pacing. Most of the movie is slow with far too much talking, and though the dialogue and delivery are both strong, it’s hard not to get bored by the lack of story movement. The actual murder mystery almost becomes secondary at times, with far too many obvious red herrings thrown into the mix to throw the viewer off track. Towards the end of the movie, an obvious clue is given to the killer’s identity, but Frannie’s paranoia and insistence that Malloy is the killer never seems to have any merit beyond her own delusions.
Because of this, what starts out as a strong character for her becomes more dependent and pathetic as the movie progresses. It’s hard not to get annoyed with her, as she gets into one ridiculous situation after another. With so many obsessive men chasing after her, including Kevin Bacon, who returns to stereotype as her sleezy ex who flies off the handle at the drop of a hat, it’s odd that she wouldn’t suspect them much like the viewer does. You would think that an English professor would put a bit more thought behind the choices she makes.
Much ado has been made about Meg Ryan’s choice to do her own nudity and sex scenes in the movie, because with the exception of the diner scene in When Harry Met Sally, Ryan has kept a fairly squeaky clean image. The negative attention this has gotten her is a bit unfair, since it takes away from her amazing performance and the transformation she goes through to become this atypical character. Frankly, there is nothing special about the sex scenes, which are neither sexy nor romantic. They owe more to the sexual mind games of 9 1/2 Weeks than to the passion in Unfaithful, and they are used far too much to typify the relationship between Frannie and Malloy. Because of this, the relationship wears thin and loses its credibility after awhile; it’s hard to figure out what she could possibly see in the detective beyond the sex.
One of the film’s biggest coups is its innovative look. Stunning visuals and gorgeous images are the norm for the movie due to the top-notch cinematography. It creates a surreal, dream-like environment that captures Frannie’s mindset as she wanders through the streets of New York, a city that has rarely looked as good as it does through Campion’s camera. That said, the stylish cinematography is sometimes used to make up for the slow storytelling, and the jarring handheld camerawork techniques and extreme close-ups sometimes just in the way. Despite Campion’s extra efforts to give the film the look and feel of a classic thriller, the suspense is used sparingly in a few key scenes where you know what is about to happen, but your stomach churns just thinking about it.
In the Cut isn’t nearly as inventive a thriller as Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things, nor is it entirely original, as many of the elements are far too common to the genre. That said, Jane Campion’s eye for visuals and ability to pull amazing performances from her cast is commendable. Despite the many problems with the pacing and story, it does work as a vehicle for Meg Ryan to prove that she can handle deeper and more dramatic roles, and for Ruffalo to show that he’s more than a one trick pony. Other than that, it seems like little more than a character study or a filmmaking exercise to explore the difficult nature of sex and obsession.
In the Cut opened in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 22nd, and it opens nationwide this Friday, October 31st.