18 November 2003 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Screened

Toronto International Film Festival

Jane Campion has applied her considerable filmmaking talents to the complex psychological thriller genre with some erotically charged but ultimately disappointing results.

Taking Susanna Moore's 1995 noir best seller as her blueprint, Campion has crafted a female-driven vehicle that doesn't shy away from the darker, not-always-pretty corners of human impulses.

But though she has drawn a couple of admirably courageous performances from leads Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, In the Cut fails to hit those all-important marks intrinsic to the success of every screen crime thriller.

Serious character credibility issues aside, the tension in the film keeps going slack when it should be winding ever so tightly, while the obligatory twist ending (with a coda that differs significantly from the novel) comes as a major, dramatically limp, letdown.

Those steamy encounters, combined with Campion's own deserved following, should help the Screen Gems picture generate some initial business, but critical word-of-mouth isn't going to be encouraging.

Stripped of nonessential cosmetics as well as her bag of perky acting tricks, Ryan delivers a fearless, emotionally raw performance as Frannie Avery, a single New York writing professor who seems to use her lank, mousy brown hair to shield herself from the city's colder elements.

One such element surfaces in the form of the grisly murder of a young woman that took place near Frannie's apartment, and NYPD Detective Michael Malloy (Ruffalo) turns up to question her in the hope that she might have seen the potential perp.

Frannie has reason to believe that she recognizes Malloy as the man with the odd tattoo on his wrist whom she spied having a quickie encounter with a woman in the murky basement of a local bar.

Although she tries to keep her distance, Frannie finds herself being increasingly attracted to Malloy, and with the approval of her half sister, Pauline Jennifer Jason Leigh), she enters into a sordid relationship with him.

Meanwhile, as the killer continues to go about his business, the whodunit possibilities also mount, and Frannie begins to suspect Malloy. Or could it be her stalker of an ex-boyfriend (Kevin Bacon)? Or one of her more intense students (Sharrieff Pugh), who's writing a paper contending the innocence of serial killer John Wayne Gacy?

Campion, in tandem with cinematographer Dion Beebe (Chicago) and production designer David Brisbin (City of Ghosts), does an effective job of creating the dread-soaked atmosphere. There's a palpable menace lurking around every neon-flickering corner.

She also gets those sweaty liaisons down cold, or rather hot, with a matter-of-fact frankness that might have felt less convincing in the hands of a male director.

But it's the scripting, handled by Campion and Moore, that proves the picture's ultimate undoing. There's nothing wrong with grafting a psychological study of the boundaries of contemporary intimacy onto the thriller framework, provided that all the analysis doesn't interfere with the genre's constantly spinning wheels.

In the end, by not respecting those fundamental rules, In the Cut emerges as a frustrating cop-out.

In the Cut

Screen Gems

Credits:

Director: Jane Campion

Executive producers: Effie T. Brown, Francois Ivernel

Producers: Laurie Parker, Nicole Kidman

Screenplay: Jane Campion and Susanna Moore

Director of photography: Dion Beebe

Production designer: David Brisbin

Editor: Alexandre de Franceschi

Costume designer: Beatrix Aruna Pasztor

Music: Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson

Cast:

Frannie Avery: Meg Ryan

Detective Malloy: Mark Ruffalo

Pauline: Jennifer Jason Leigh

John Graham: Kevin Bacon

Detective Rodriguez: Nick Damici

Cornelius: Sharrieff Pugh

Running time -- 113 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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