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In the Cut (November 7/03)

First of all, In the Cut isn't terrible. There's been some seriously bad buzz floating around the movie since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly not a good movie - but it's not even close to being one of the worst films of the year.

Though the film's pace is sluggish and the direction annoyingly off-the-cuff, the movie does manage to redeem itself somewhat due to a couple of better-than-expected central performances. Meg Ryan stars as Frannie, an English teacher that unwittingly becomes a witness to a murder (she saw the victim the night of the killing). Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) initially just wants to ask Frannie a few questions about the case, but finds himself drawn to her; a steamy relationship follows.

In the Cut's based on the novel by Susanna Moore, and if nothing else, the movie does a fantastic job of bringing the seediness of Moore's story to life. She wrote extensively of dank bars and dirty apartments, which are envisioned by director Jane Campion in a particularly unseemly vision of New York City. The film stands as one of the more effective adaptations of a novel to come around in a while - which is not necessarily a good thing. Though Moore is clearly a talented writer, her story was filled with sleazy characters that weren't compelling or interesting in the least. Not helping matters was the obvious lack of plot; pages and pages were devoted to Frannie's thoughts, which primarily dealt with her feelings and the like. Not exactly stuff that translates easily to celluloid.

At any rate, there clearly wasn't enough material to fill a two hour movie (which was Campion's first mistake, really; the film shouldn't have gone a second over 90 minutes), so new elements have been thrown into the mix. The most obvious example of this is a bizarre ex-boyfriend of Frannie's who's taken to stalking her. The character seems to exist only for two reasons: to kill time, and to give us someone else to suspect as the murderer. Having said that, an unbilled Kevin Bacon plays the mysterious figure, and his presence is always appreciated. And though the movie is quite faithful to the source material, the conclusion has expectedly undergone a change (the novel ended on a bleak note, the film does not). It's the sort of Hollywoodization that one expects from a big-budget film, but given Campion's obvious love of Moore's novel, it is somewhat surprising.

But the film never becomes a flat-out bore, mostly because of the fantastic performances from Ryan and Ruffalo. Ryan is quite good in the role of Frannie, though the character never quite becomes the fearless woman she was in the novel. There's this underlying current of trepidation that wasn't a factor in the book, but Ryan does a nice job of bringing this sexually ambitious woman to life. Ruffalo is electrifying as Malloy, plain and simple. He's always been a scene stealer in secondary roles, but he proves that he's got the charisma and talent to take center stage. It's an impressive performance that'll hopefully bring more work Ruffalo's way.

In the Cut would've been a whole lot better if it had been about 30 minutes shorter, but as it is, it's a barely passable thriller. Oddly enough, the film never explains just what "in the cut" means (according to the novel, it means to be somewhere safe).

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