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Jane Campion
Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh
Writing Credits:
Jane Campion, Susanna Moore (novel & screenplay)

Everything you knew about desire is dead wrong.

In the underbelly of lower Manhattan, Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan), a reserved English professor, becomes obsessed after seeing more than she should of an impassioned couple. After the young woman turns up dead, Frannie is questioned by a homicide detective (Mark Ruffalo) who draws her into a liberating but disturbing erotic encounter. As the body count rises, familiar suspects begin to emerge.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $26.96
Release Date: 2/10/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Jane Campion and Producer Laurie Parker
• “Frannie Avery’s Slang Dictionary”
• “In the Cut: Behind the Scenes” Featurette
• Trailers

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In The Cut: Uncut Director's Edition (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 9, 2004)

Back in 1981, Julie Andrews attempted to dispel her “goody two-shoes” image. She appeared in her husband Blake Edwards’ SOB and did the unthinkable: she bared her breasts. Minor shock and outrage resulted, but not much.

Apparently seeking to shed her title as “America’s Sweetheart”, Meg Ryan goes way beyond breast-flashing territory in 2003’s In the Cut. She plays Francis “Frannie” Avery (Meg Ryan), a New York high school English teacher. Fairly disconnected from life, Frannie seems to spend most of her time outside of work along with her half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Both ladies are unlucky in love, though in different ways. Frannie rarely bothers to engage with the opposite sex, though a dalliance with a failed actor named John Graham (Kevin Bacon) leads to unpleasantness as he semi-stalks her. Pauline borders on stalker herself, as she pursues a married doctor in her own nutty way.

Frannie works on a slang dictionary and tutors a student named Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh) in writing. He helps her with her dictionary and seems fixated on serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who he feels was innocent. While the pair confer in a bar, Frannie heads toward the bathroom in the basement and happens upon some woman as she gives a guy a blowjob. Briefly fascinated, she eventually splits before she gets caught.

Back at her apartment, Frannie encounters Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo). A gruesome homicide occurred in her area, and he chats with her as part of his investigation. Interestingly, Malloy sports a tattoo identical to one worn by the blowjob recipient, which leads Frannie to believe she saw the detective in the basement. Eventually she fantasizes about Malloy as she masturbates.

The next day Malloy and his partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici) pick up Frannie for more questioning. Malloy also uses the opportunity to ask her out, and they eventually connect sexually. The movie mainly follows a dual story, as we watch the burgeoning but dysfunctional romance between Malloy and Frannie as well as the exploration of the murder. This becomes a plural soon, as more victims appear, and this makes Frannie more and more suspicious of Malloy. In addition, we learn of some sordid elements of her family history.

A rather perfunctory crime drama mixed with sex flick, Cut sometimes feels like it exists solely as an excuse for Ryan to broaden her acting persona. That’s not true, as the story comes from the novel of the same name, and I’m sure the film would have progressed without Ryan in it. Nonetheless, as executed, it seems like little more than an excuse for Meg to do some naughty things and try to get us to think of her as more than just the button-cute pixie.

It doesn’t work. Part of that stems from Ryan’s lackluster performance. Ryan doesn’t actually play Frannie. Instead, she plays Frannie as Nicole Kidman might play her. Perhaps not coincidentally, Kidman acted as a producer for Cut, and Frannie came across as a very Kidman-esque character.

Unfortunately, Ryan fails to imbue the personality with any of the spark or verve one might find from Kidman. Her Frannie is nothing more than a standard victim. She comes across as weepy and weak most of the time, and fails to become an involving personality about whom we care.

Still, she becomes our heroine just because all the others seem so unlikable. Actually, that’s not fully true, as Leigh manages to offer some flawed charm as Pauline. A deeply damaged personality, Leigh neither revels in her character’s foibles nor does she neglect them. Instead, Leigh brings out the reality in the role and gives her a depth totally absent in Ryan’s play-acting.

All the male characters range from unpleasant to downright despicable. Geez, couldn’t the filmmakers portray at least one moderately decent guy? Apparently not, and this makes the movie seem rather male-bashing much of the time; it portrays men as almost uniformly cruel, crude and selfish. Bacon’s role exists as nothing more than a red herring; he brings an amusingly pathetic quality to the part that make his moments interesting, but the character remains essentially superfluous.

Cut indeed loves to pour on the deceptions. Virtually every male character presents a potential killer. Since only one ends up as the true murderer, this makes all the rest feel like cheap ruses, especially in the tawdry way the film exploits their status. We find many moments that seem to exist solely to cause suspicion; the film occasionally grinds to a halt just to present elements that make us question whodunit.

Too bad my reaction so frequently became “who cares?” Cut can’t quite decide which paths to pursue, which makes it a mess. At times director Jane Campion wants to turn it into a steamy romance, while others focus on the serial killings. We also find so many explorations of women’s tendencies toward dysfunctional relationships that I occasionally thought I’d tuned into an “X”-rated edition of Oprah. Campion fails to connect these various elements well, so the movie ends up as a mish-mash.

Campion seems to want to make some point about sexual politics but can’t quite nail down what she wants to say. This makes the movie rather slow and meandering. It takes a while to go anywhere and usually doesn’t explore much of interest. Because it attempts to serve so many masters, it doesn’t appropriately address any of them.

Ultimately, I can’t quite figure out the point of In the Cut. It doesn’t focus strongly enough on the murders to be about them, but it also presents such superficially drawn personalities that it falls short of becoming a decent character drama. It delves into some graphic sex scenes but lacks enough to exist as something that might titillate on “Skinemax”. Maybe this movie does exist just to show Meg Ryan naked. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially since Ryan looks pretty damned good in the buff, but this doesn’t make Cut much of a movie.

Note that this DVD looked at the “Uncut Director’s Edition” of Cut. I never saw the film prior to this screening, so I can’t directly relate what new material shows up here. The movie only runs about a minute longer, so don’t expect much additional footage. However, we do see some graphic shots that I doubt made the “R”-rated edition. For example, the blowjob scene actually shows a close-up of that activity. I can’t imagine the movie’s any worse without these shots, but I wanted to note them nonetheless.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

In the Cut appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A dark and occasionally murky film, the DVD replicated the picture quite well.

Sharpness looked very good. At times, the imagery took on intentional blurriness around the edges, but since that clearly came from the original photography, this was fine. Otherwise, the movie looked consistently concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. As for source concerns, some natural grain popped up in a few low-light shots, but otherwise the film looked free of flaws.

Cut generally utilized somewhat ugly and garish tones. It featured lots of greens and oranges that seemed purposefully unappealing. The disc duplicated them nicely, and other times when the movie used more natural tones, they seemed rich and full. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while low-light shots came across as detailed and well delineated. Overall, I found very little about which I could complain in this accurate and distinctive transfer.

While a fairly low-key affair, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of In the Cut served the film well. Not surprisingly, the soundfield mainly focused on the forward channels. Not a lot happened outside of general ambience, which the mix provided nicely. Elements appeared appropriately placed and meshed together smoothly, with decent movement across the channels as appropriate.

The surrounds kicked in with reinforcement of these bits, and they kicked to life a little better at times. For example, strip bar shots provided a nice sense of audio from all around the spectrum, and occasional vehicles like helicopters cropped up in the back as well. Not a lot of ambition appeared from this soundfield, but it seemed satisfactory for this sort of flick.

Cut featured satisfying audio quality as well. Speech consistently presented natural and crisp elements. They lacked edginess or issues with intelligibility. Music was clear and smooth; the movie’s score wasn’t a loud and insistent piece, and the mix replicated these pieces distinctly. Effects rarely taxed the audio but seemed accurate and firm. Bass demonstrated deep and rich tones that came to life for a few minor sequences such as with thunder or music at the strip joint. Overall, the audio wasn’t special but it seemed appropriate.

In the Cut provides a smattering of supplements. We find an audio commentary from director Jane Campion and producer Laurie Parker, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. This doesn’t offer an equal partnership, though. While Parker provides some decent information at times, Campion dominates, which occasionally becomes annoying; at times, Parker starts to say something but Campion interrupts and talks over her. This means much of the time the producer doesn’t try to say much more than “yeah” in response to Campion’s notes.

Despite those issues, this track gives us a pretty good examination of the flick. The pair cover nuts and bolts topics like the original novel and variations between it and the movie, working with the cast and those challenges, locations and using those to make the flick grittier, and creating some of the film’s graphic scenes. We also find information about the movie’s themes and hear a nice analysis of those areas. The commentary never quite becomes great, but it evaluates a nice variety of subjects and seems like a fine take on the important parts of the project.

Next we find Frannie Avery’s Slang Dictionary. In this two-minute and 22-second featurette, we see movie clips and hear a narrator tell us the meanings of various terms gathered in the flick. It’s a fairly useless little piece.

The more straightforward In the Cut: Behind the Scenes presents a 15-minute and 40-second program that mixes shots from the set and interviews with Campion, Parker, author Susanna Moore, production designer David Brisban, and actors Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Sharrieff Pugh, Nick Damici, Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Jason Leigh. A fairly disjointed but fairly informative piece, this show covers the roots of the novel, what attracted various participants to the movie, research for the roles, shooting in New York, visual design, and a few other aspects of the production. It covers the bases moderately well, and the absence of movie clips keeps it from turning into a generic promotional vehicle. Nonetheless, it remains somewhat spotty, as it doesn’t offer much depth about any of the topics. It’s above average for this sort of program, but not by a lot.

Lastly, the DVD includes a collection of trailers. We discover ads for In the Cut as well as The Missing, Sin and Trapped.

A confused and murky thriller/romance, In the Cut attempts to push buttons but mostly fails. It tries to explore relationships and other issues as well but just seems spotty and generally incoherent. The DVD offers excellent picture quality along with decent audio and a small roster of extras highlighted by a pretty good commentary. If you’re dying to see Meg Ryan in the buff, give In the Cut a look, but otherwise I can’t recommend this blah flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2962 Stars Number of Votes: 27
8 3:
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