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In the Cut (2003)

Sex and desire come to a bloody head

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 119 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

Jane Campion is best known for directing period dramas with a feminist slant (‘The Piano’, ‘Portrait of a Lady’), so her new film ‘In the Cut’, a thriller set in contemporary New York, might at first seem something of a departure for her. Yet its main theme – the difficulty and danger of realising what one desires – represents a direct continuum with her previous work, making ‘In the Cut’ a much more nuanced and psychologically insightful film than your average thriller.

One evening English professor Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan), trying to locate the toilet in a bar’s dark basement, finds herself watching, and aroused by, a tattooed man being fellated by a woman. A few days later, after part of a ‘disarticulated’ woman’s body has been found in her garden, she meets Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo). whose tattoo matches that of the man from the bar. Undeterred, Frannie begins a passionate affair with Malloy, but when she learns that the murder victim was the woman from the bar – a bar which Malloy denies ever having visited – Frannie starts to suspect that her detective is guilty of lying – or worse.

Not that, as the grisly murders continue, there is any shortage of other suspects. Frannie’s clearly unhinged ex, John (Kevin Bacon), makes a habit of stalking her and letting himself into her apartment, while her student Cornelius Webb (Sharrieff Pugh) is obsessed with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and likes to illustrate his term papers with blood.

What is destined to be most discussed about this film – apart from the VERY graphic hardcore scene near the beginning – is the casting of Meg Ryan, very much against type, in the lead rôle. By sending Hollywood’s favourite girl-next-door on this dark erotic quest, Campion suggests that the complex emotions and sensual depth exposed by her film lie hidden in every woman. Meg Ryan gives a brooding, sultry performance, and seems to have morphed, both in her appearance and mannerisms, into Nicole Kidman (who is one of the producers, and starred in ‘Portrait of a Lady’). It is, however, difficult to take seriously the intensity of Ryan’s orgasm scenes here, when they echo so closely her now famous moans in When Harry Met Sally.

‘In the Cut’ looks fantastic. In the daylit sequences, everything is in soft focus, dripping with sensuality, while the night sequences are pure film noir, and Frannie’s dreams of her parents’ first tryst are inflected with quaintly old-fashioned sepia tones. This visual exuberance is not matched by economy in the script (adapted from the novel by Susanna Moore) – red herrings and false leads are always welcome in thrillers, and this one has plenty of good ones, but the frequent scenes where Frannie reads poems in the subway contribute little either to the story or to her characterisation, and belong on the editor’s floor rather than in the cut.”

It's Got: Excellent performances, striking visuals, a jaw-droppingly strong sex scene, and an unexpected new use of the word Virginia.

It Needs: Tighter script editing.


Sex and desire come to a bloody head in this elliptical thriller. Stylish, clever, and full of insight into the darker side of both male and female sexuality – but when a film like this runs twenty or so minutes too long, just don't advertise the fact by calling it 'In the Cut'.