In the Cut

A wallflower high school teacher, Frannie (Meg Ryan, dull and soulless) has become rather used to her lonely life, resigned to caring for her lowlife, sexually obsessed sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh, typically sleepy). When Malloy (Mark Ruffalo, hilariously profane), a local detective, comes looking for information on a possible serial killer who struck nearby, Frannie is taken by Malloy’s frank demeanor and sexual forthrightness. The two begin a kinky affair, which beings to burrow into Frannie’s psyche, conjuring up old memories and uncertainties. When the killer continues to strike, Frannie grows fearful of Malloy and his lurid games, even going so far as to suspect he’s the man behind the crimes.

Sexual dominance and fascination seem to play a large role in every film by acclaimed director Jane Campion. Through “The Piano” and “The Portrait Of A Lady,” to her last film, the underrated battle of the sexes comedy “Holy Smoke!,” Campion has never backed down when offered the chance to explore human sexuality, and how it can often corrode the spirit. “In The Cut,” adapted from the best selling thriller novel by Susanna Moore (who also co-scripted), takes the themes of erotica and untapped desires, and sets them in the serial killer genre. The story – as told through Campion – concerns the sexual awakening of a dour, repressed woman on the verge of giving up on relationships, only to find a man who can take her on a voyage of yearning and sexual aggression. And every so often a traditional thriller plot point stands at attention to remind all of the principal narrative. Moore’s story gets in the way of Campion’s exploration of Frannie’s sexual landscape. The filmmaker is much more assured fetishizing details like Frannie’s handwriting, poems written on the subway, and stroking, searching hands than to be bothered with telling a routine thriller story.

Since heightened sexual situations and the breakdown of masculinity is her specialty, Campion does a proficient job arranging the lustful scenes in a way in which the audience can easily access Frannie’s head. Using barely focused, handheld cinematography, Campion weaves a smoky haze of kinky sex and bloody beheadings, attempting to build a rather humid yet uncomfortable atmosphere. Campion succeeds. “In The Cut” is glacially paced, oddly acted, and isn’t easy to sit through, and I’m irritated to think that’s Campion’s suggestion of the ideal moviegoing experience. By taking Meg Ryan, America’s sweetheart, and tossing her in a genre she has little experience in, the filmmakers seems obsessed with trying to develop something different than what is traditionally found in sex thrillers. I’ll give the film credit, it certainly weaves a vivid pastiche of erotically charged images and confrontational desires together thoroughly. But the film remains an icky affair, possibly crossing into misogynistic territory, made even worse by the sheer number of females involved with the making of the film.

It’s in Campion’s inability to keep this tale moving in the right directions that “In the Cut” becomes a real drag. While never a snappily paced picture to begin with, Campion and Moore’s endless parade of transparent red-herrings, ice skating flashbacks, and extended takes that go on for decades forces the audience to truly confront the inadequacies of the film. The climax of the picture is pure “NYPD Blue,” and that’s a crying shame. Had Campion put as much effort into her film’s structure as she did in convincing Ryan to take off her clothes, “In The Cut” might have had a fighting chance to be something more than a future Saturday night Cinemax staple.

Rating: D+