This adaptation of Suzanna Moore's cult novel, scripted by the author herself along with sometime genius director Jane Campion, has been so long awaited and so heavily praised during production that even critics like myself, who try to maintain a healthy distance from such influences, were expecting great things. Sad to say, the film didn't deliver. It's by no means a bad film, but it's frustrating, as many things about it suggest that it might have been a great deal more.

If the font in which the very first words to appear on the screen are written doesn't give the game away, the opening shot will: we are in routine TV-style serial killer movie territory, and no amount of individual brilliance is going to change that. The choice of Que Sera Sera as introductory music is either an unfortunate mistake or the introduction to a paticularly sick Heathers joke too silly to fit with the rest of what goes on. This is a shame, since its cheesy moodiness is accompanied by some beautifully shot stills which effectively capture the refuse of New York and set the tone for what is to come. Throughout the film, Campion's lush visuals sweep the viewer along, creating an atmosphere far more involving than that presented literally.

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Meg Ryan plays a literature teacher with a distaste for committed relationships and a string of petulant exes who embarks on a relationship with the police detective who comes around investigating after the dismembered body of a young woman is found in her back garden. She distrusts everybody she gets to know, with the exception of her sister, but the sister is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, so everything that happens to her is pretty predictable.

Everybody in the story keeps second-guessing everybody else. As a study of confounded expectations within day to day encounters, this is an astute and charming piece of work. It's where it tries to take on dramatic issues that it falls down. In many ways, this comes across as a good psychological tale with a murder mystery tacked onto it. The devices used to create the crime story - a distinctive tattoo, the heroine learning to use a gun, handcuffing during a sex scene - are crude and tacky, out of place. The rest of the writing is better than that.

The other, already more famous focus of this film is sex. It has been hyped by promises of taboo breaking and the distinctly patronising tagline 'Everything you think you know about desire is wrong.' If you are in that position, you'd do better to watch an Open University sexology programme than to waste your time with this, which scarcely covers anything we haven't seen in tacky Seventies thrillers. The female focus of the sexual observations may be shocking to some sheltered Americans, and it is well handled, with all involved seeming confident about it. There's also a significant amount of penis on display (quite justified by context), which makes a change, but isn't really very interesting beyond that. Whilst Meg Ryan looks very good for her age, there's little sexual chemistry to excite the viewer. This isn't really a criticism of the film, however, as I don't believe it's what Campion was aiming for. A masturbation sequence focusing on imagination provides us with more insight, making an interesting contrast to other such scenes seen recently in Secretary and Mulholland Drive.

All of the characters on display here are primarily self-focused, and lonely because of it, which is what makes them interesting. Or at least, it's what makes Meg Ryan's character interesting, because hers is the only one with any real depth; she plays it very well indeed. She and Campion really seem to understand one another. It's this that lifts the film above the mediocre. The most impressive scene comes when the heroine is walking into an apartment expecting to find something terrible. Most actors would have played this with more abject horror. Ryan's skill shows in the subtlety and complexity of her reactions, letting viewers access the emotional aspects of the experience. For this, In The Cut deserves a wide audience, and it is to be hoped that Ryan can go on to get further roles where she can show she's more than cute and fluffy. Beyond this, however, it's really nothing special.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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A serial killer at large in the strip clubs off Broadway terrorises a collector of language.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****1/2

Director: Jane Campion

Writer: Jane Campion, Susanna Moore, based on the novel by Susanna Moore

Starring: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh, Sunrise Coigney, Frank Harts, Heather Litteer, Susan Gardner

Year: 2003

Runtime: 119 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Australia


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