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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"You're here for the sex, right?"
DVD ReviewA few summers back, In the Cut was *the* East Coast beach read—Susanna Moore's novel, with its spare style, just enough story, and explicit sex scenes was just the right mixture of highbrow noir and good old-fashioned porn to make it a page turner. It's not a galvanizing novel, really, but it's got its fascinations; and the film on which the book is based suffers from some of the same problems. That is, the suspense won't keep you hooked, and, given the titillation with which the movie is being promoted (especially on this DVD, in its "uncut director's edition"), it's likely to disappoint.
Meg Ryan plays Frannie, who teaches creative writing and exhibits a fascination with words, scribbling down novel bits of slang or turns of phrase into her ever-present notebook. She's just as fascinated with men, too, one of the principal subjects of conversation between her and her half-sister and best friend, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). These include Cornelius (Sharrieff Pugh), one of Frannie's students, who swaps up African-American slang with her for a better grade, a free drink now and again, and possibly more; and later on and more important, Giovanni Molloy (Mark Ruffalo), NYPD detective. It seems a serial killer is haunting Frannie's TriBeCa neighborhood; a body part is found in Frannie's garden, and she happened to be at the last place where the most recent victim was seen alive. (Frannie inadvertently played peeping Tom, seeing the future murder victim performing a sexual act on an unseen partner that no doubt is responsible for making this movie MPAA-unfriendly.)
It's hard not to reflect on the fact that serial murderers are a lot more common in Hollywood than they are in real life, and In the Cut never rises to the top of that particular genre; it's crudely reductive to call this merely a woman's spin on familiar material, but it's worth noting, given that most serial-murderer movies aren't written, produced directed by or star women, as this one does. Good for them, but, you know, that and two bucks will get you on the subway. So the main event here, I suppose, are the explicit sex scenes between Ruffalo and Ryan; you know they're about to happen when the scores shifts over to tremulous violins. Ryan gives the sort of performance that sometimes gets called "fierce" or "brave;" in this instance, those are euphemisms for "naked." The target audience (and you know who you are) will have their fingers on the fast forward button as soon as the disc cues up.
Though the novel was written years before, the movie was shot on location in post 9/11 downtown New York, and though the film wisely doesn't put too fine a point on it, there are a couple of lingering shots on American flags and a general, grey sort of malaise to the film that give it a strong sense of time and place. But still and all, both the movie and Frannie soon come to seem a little facile, especially as she scribbles down subway poetry as if it were revelatory. (Similarly, the most extraordinary thing about the book may have been its final sentences; the ending has been changed, and the jolt of those words never make it to the screen.) Leigh is winning in her supporting role, as is Kevin Bacon, as a stalking ex-boyfriend of Frannie's; but they aren't where the action is. A groovy, mournful downtown vibe is a pungent setting for a movie, but even with (or perhaps even because of) the explicit sex and violence, it's hard not to reach the conclusion that this is all a little dull.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: Director Jane Campion plays around with film stocks, and she's shot a bleak feature that has been transferred reasonably well to DVD. Some of the shots can seem a little precious, but the colors are strong.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is layered with lots of atmospherics for downtown New York, and while it's stylish and refreshing that some of the dialogue is delivered in throwaway style, there are patches that are just a little too difficult to make out, in crowd scenes especially.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Missing, Sin, Trapped
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jane Campion, Laurie Parker
Extras Review: The director and producer sit for a commentary track that, like the movie, is occasionally smart, but more often meandering. There's lots of perfunctory talk about locations and casting, but not a whole lot of insight. Parker and Campion don't help their cause by getting all giggly on the track when the explicit sex scenes come on; it's a little embarrassing for them, really.
Also here is a behind-the-scenes documentary (15m:40s) that's pretty by the numbers, though it features close-ups of Ryan's seemingly collagen-enhanced lips; very creepy. This is also the only place on the disc to see Susanna Moore. Finally, there's Frannie Avery's Slang Dictionary (02m:33s), a quick review of some of the terms that Frannie enters into her notebook. As with much else here, this was a lot more effective and organic on the page than on the screen.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsMoodiness is appealing for a little while, but soon it's clear that this is neither a great character study nor a great suspense story, making it a film that pretty much falls between two stools.
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