Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 02, 2003 10:15 pm 
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In the sleaze

In the Cut makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable. It also has a few funny moments, like when a big fat gay bouncer (Hector, played by Patrice Harts) comes on to Meg Ryan’s huge, hunky black student Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh) outside a strip joint and asks the kid to sit on his lap. But that's a rare example: this is a solemn piece of work. There are times when it has the edge it seeks so relentlessly. Its brightly toned and jumpily photographed grunge and grit certainly don’t look like a conventional murder thriller the way Mystic River does. But the in-your-face effort to be visually different only makes you all the more aware of the fact that the cops, the story, all the basic elements of In the Cut are like any serial killer story about a woman-hating slasher you’ve ever seen -- and there are lots out there. However clever and fresh in its approach the Susanna Moore novel may be, these are stock situations as they emerge in the movie. The only difference between this movie and something on a cop show is that everybody except maybe Jennifer Jason Leigh is slumming, the cops talk much dirtier and nastier (and more homophobic for that matter) than they could on TV, and the sex is practically X, despite the R.

None of this is much of a recommendation, but Mark Ruffalo is great. This cop he plays is a dream role, or at least he makes it one. Ruffalo goes beyond any cop in the genre, and not only maintains a balance between sexy and merely sleazy in every scene but also manages to be both a well individuated character and the standard thing, a homicide detective investigating a serial killer. He’s investigating a crime that has come to Frannie’s backyard, and he’s having sex with her, and he’s scaring her and turning her on a whole lot at the same time. Not a new thing, but a guaranteed cheap thrill. The twist (but there are too many twists of this kind) is that Detective Malloy (Ruffalo) may be the guy Frannie (Ryan’s character) saw with the murder victim, who may be stalking her. Maybe, maybe maybe. . . it’s all very vague.

And vagueness isn't an asset in murder mysteries, which usually go from one clarity to another after the previous seeming truth is wiped out. Another related trouble is the pace of In the Cut, which is meandering to downright slow and instead of generating suspense only maintains a vague sense (that word again) of impending doom. The plot is weakened, and the viewer made queasy, by the fact that Frannie, not to mention her total loser sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), isn’t trying to stay out of danger but courting it. That’s where the sense of doom comes from. Not so much the lurking murderer, but the sheer lack of control. Frannie is as likely to walk in front of a truck as get cut up and tossed in the bathtub. The tension is diffused because Frannie's so careless of her safety -- she gets herself in so much random trouble -- that being pursued by a serial killer is only one of the risks she runs.

Frannie has been compared to Jane Fonda’s Bree in Klute, whose haircut she seems to be wearing. But while Bree was smart and self aware, Frannie is a sleepwalker, and when Malloy says to Frannie “You’re smarter than me, I’m struggling to keep up with you,” you wonder where he got that idea. Frannie seems completely ditsy, and the fact that she teaches at some inner city junior college doesn’t make her smart, not the way she behaves. The unfortunate thing about Meg Ryan’s daring acceptance of a “challenging” acting role that makes her get naked and get down on screen, is that whether it’s her fault or not, her character is a dud. What kind of liberation is this for Ryan – the liberation of becoming a victim? Whatever it is she’s doing, the one time she takes initiative at the end is accidental, desperate, and tacked on.

Like any murder mystery, In the Cut has false suspects mixed in with the real ones. They're sleazy characters, because this story is about sleaze. Besides Malloy, there’s his partner, who may be a suspect since he's more boorish and foulmouthed than Malloy and has had his gun taken away by the force; and there’s Cornelius, Frannie’s student, who’s fascinated with John Wayne Gacy, though that's such an obvious marker you discount him; and there’s Kevin Bacon as a former lover of Frannie’s. He’s a medical student or intern or something called John Graham, but mainly he’s just a crazy and a stalker with very bad hair. This is a lousy role for Kevin Bacon, one of the tackiest things he’s done. That he did it for Jane Campion is no justification. (He’s uncredited, but that only calls attention to the embarrassment of his presence.) You’re never going to guess who the killer is, not at least until it’s obvious. But the trouble is that the plot doesn’t make you want to guess or even care.

There are some recurrent ice skating flashbacks: their nostalgic look is very Jane Campion, but quite irrelevant.

People are saying this is a great role for Meg Ryan. The trouble is it's not a great performance, though she deserves an A for Effort. It's a brave attempt, certainly a radical departure from Ms. Ryan's usual cute romantic comedies: there’s nothing subtle about the step she took. People are also saying it’s good that Nicole Kidman declined the part, because she’d have been too strong. Not at all a sure thing. It might have been useful for the credibility of the story and appeal of the heroine to have Frannie’s passivity and risk-taking seem matters of choice rather than merely the result of bad judgment and inertia. And her Frannie might have been smarter. But this season Ms. Kidman does her slumming in The Human Stain instead.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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