"In the Cut" is an attempt from Meg Ryan to break free from the roles that she's been typecast in. Rarely does this work - the only successful Ryan drama that comes to memory is "Courage Under Fire" (edit: Ok - sorry I forgot about "When a Man Loves a Woman"). The star of that film, however, was more Denzel Washington. In "In the Cut", Ryan's starring role is threatened by Dion Beebe's unbelievable cinematography, which is a masterpiece of lighting, composition, tone and creation of atmosphere. The subject matter is pretty grim, but this is one of the most beautiful-looking films I've seen in a while.
Ryan stars as Frannie Avery, a creative writing teacher in New York City who continually is at work, not caring much to notice the world around her. She arrives home one day to find James Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), a detective investigating a murder in the local area. The woman, apparently, was the same one that Frannie saw in a dark backroom with another guy as Frannie was headed towards the basement bathroom.
Malloy and Frankie keep running into each other, and there's an attraction between the two that can't be denied. Well, maybe it can - at least for a while, until Frankie gets mugged and returns to the detective for help. Yet, there's signs that Malloy isn't who he says he is. There's also the continued attention by student Cornelius Webb (Sharrieff Pugh), in a subplot that's never really developed much. Kevin Bacon, adding to the whole "six degrees" thing, takes a small part as an unhinged ex-boyfriend of Frannie. Malloy's partner also seems to be lurking around a lot. All the while, Frankie's half-sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) encourages her on.
Director Jane Campion ("The Piano") does her very best to try and cover up what is otherwise a rather routine thriller with a great deal of visual work from cinematographer Bebe and the film's production designers, art directors, etc. It alll manages to not only create an utterly striking, "lived-in" looking picture, but to create a sense of unease the likes of which I haven't felt since director Francis Ozon's "Swimming Pool".
Yet, other elements didn't work for me. I believed Frannie to be a moderately intelligent character - too smart to become so involved with Malloy, who seems like a dangerous guy even when he's trying to be nice. Although I'm not sure, as a cop, it seems unlikely that he would go that far with someone he's investigating. The film's buzz centered around Ryan's nudity and the film's sexuality. While I can't complain about seeing Meg Ryan naked (she still looks quite good), I never quite knew which the whole angle was more important to: the story or trying to break Ryan out of her comedic, lighter image.
Certainly, I have no trouble with Ryan as a dramatic actress. Her portrayal in "Courage Under Fire" was excellent and she's good again here (Nicole Kidman was originally going to play the part), even though her character's actions aren't always terribly bright. Ruffalo is excellent as well, able to keep the character off-balance, skillfully keeping the audience unsure of the character's intentions. While the performances are generally good, I wish the performers hadn't made the choice to underplay; the pacing of the film would have been aided by a bit more energy.
"I can't quite figure you out," one character in the film says to Frannie. I felt the same way about the movie. I liked aspects of the performances, I loved the look and production design of the movie and even though the film was slow and the story wasn't terribly original, there was a haunting, unusual quality about it that kept me pulled in.
Note: This is the "director's cut", which, by all indications, adds about a minute into the picture. I haven't seen the film before this viewing, so I'm unsure where that footage is, although I'm guessing its mostly brief additions to the sex scenes.
VIDEO: "In The Cut" is presented by Columbia/Tristar in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's unusual, haunting visuals are presented here quite successfully, aside from a few minor issues. Sharpness and detail are often excellent, although the film often attempts to play with the focus - quite successfully adding an interesting texture to the film's visuals.
The only real issue that I spotted with the transfer was the presence of some slight compression artifacts in a couple of scenes. A tiny bit of edge enhancement was spotted once or twice, too, but the print looked spotless. The film's strange, interesting color palette - a mix of colder colors and warmer earthy browns, reds and yellows - is rendered quite beautifully, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "In the Cut" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is an enjoyable, if rather subdued soundtrack. Surrounds really don't come into play with any great intensity, mostly adding background sounds/ambience that is subtle and just noticable, never drawing too much attention to itself. Dialogue remains clear and clean, while there's little in the way of score.
EXTRAS: Producer & music supervisor Laurie Parker and screenwriter/director Jane Campion provide a full-length audio commentary for the film. The audio commentary is generally involving, as the two provide a pretty detailed discussion of the story and characters, while occasionally going deeper into production issues, such as shooting on location in New York City, the film's interesting cinematography and working with the actors to create characters.
Aside from the commentary, the DVD offers a 15-minute "making of" documentary, trailers for "In the Cut" and other Columbia/Tristar titles and a "slang dictionary" featurette.
Final Thoughts: I felt mixed about "In the Cut". Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo offer fine performances and director Jane Campion brings a creepy, unsettling undercurrent, but the film still seems like Campion has added a visually striking cover to a rather thin genre story. Rent it.
The Film ** 1/2