In The Cut Movie Review
Using the sentimental ditty "Que Sera Sera" to eye-rolling effect as an ironic theme for a victim-protagonist with dangerously poor romantic judgment, Jane Campion's erotic thriller/murder mystery "In the Cut" proves to be neither erotic (who would want to sleep with a creepy cop who always wears a deceitful grimace?) nor thrilling, but merely baleful and unpleasant.
Adapted from Susanna Moore's 1995 novel in a collaboration between author and director, the film stars Meg Ryan -- in a welcome, commanding departure from her screen-sweetheart career trap -- as an emotionally wary creative writing teacher at a Lower Manhattan high school who becomes the unwitting center of gravity in a series of gruesome dismemberment murders of young women.
But the plot turns on her psychologically reckless relationship with Mark Ruffalo ("You Can Count On Me"), the pushy, callously manipulative lead detective on the case, with whom she falls into bed even though she's suspects he may be the killer, having seen a man bearing his distinctive three-of-spades tattoo embroiled with the first victim in the shadows of a local dive shortly before her death.
Ryan doesn't tell him this, of course, and she continues to have rough, almost antagonistic sex with the guy even after he takes her on a date to the seedy local cop hang-out, where he and his partner (Nick Damici) get drunk and fly their misogynistic colors, ranting about how Internal Affairs takes away the guns of "good cops" just because they're under investigation for domestic violence.
If her poor judgment was compelling in some way, "In the Cut" might have been as gripping as Campion ("Holy Smoke," "The Portrait of a Lady") hopes it will be by effectively creating a tense, gritty, clamoring, perilous, insomniatic underbelly-of-New-York atmosphere.
But while Ryan's character is very much a creature of that environment (as is her even more screwed-up sister, a stripper played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), she's too tough, mature and experienced still to be battling daddy-abandonment issues (insert weirdly playful sepia-toned nightmares here) by rushing headlong into liaisons with questionable men. Before the oily detective, she'd twice slept with a borderline-psycho medical student (Kevin Bacon in a particularly disconcerting performance) who has been stalking her ever since -- and the fact that she never even wonders if this guy could be the killer despite an abundance of circumstantial clues leaves us to wonder if she might not be a little dumb on top of being psycho-sexually damaged goods.
The fact that it's hard to get in Ryan's corner leaves the unsettling "In the Cut" feeling less like a thriller and more like a fantasy of feminine self-hatred in which being manhandled by vile men is a turn-on. And while the same can be said for the book that inspired it, at least the book had the courage to see that sentiment through, whereas the movie replaces the novel's disturbing finale with a conventional, mass-consumable cop-out.