Taking a role intended for the indomitable Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan gets naked, frisky, and totally weirded out for Jane Campion’s arty thriller In the Cut. The movie, adapted from Susanna Moore’s bestselling literary gothic, is aggressively grim and gory. It’s a throwback to the New York policiers of the Koch era, yet wacky enough to suggest a procedural in the Land of Oz.
An uptight creative-writing teacher with pronounced boundary issues, Ryan is hanging out with a student in an East Village bar when, searching the basement for a toilet, she stumbles upon a woman sexually servicing a shadowy man—his face obscured but a helpful close-up revealing his distinctive little tattoo. A few hours later, the servicer is lying dead and, as the police say, “disarticulated” in a nearby empty lot, and Ryan is being questioned by a similarly tattooed and bluntly flirtatious cop (Mark Ruffalo), who contemplates her confusion with expressionless cow eyes, and seems to know an awful lot about her connection to the corpse.
Ryan is fascinated by this confident male, who effortlessly channels the cadences of every NYPD stud to ever appear on network TV. Still, it takes a mystery mugging to make her fall into bed with him for the movie’s big moment of cunnilingual nuzzling. “Who taught you that?” she exclaims. At the Toronto Film Festival, where In the Cut had a less than epochal world premiere, Ruffalo confessed that Campion—who reportedly offered to direct the sex scene au naturel—had primed his performance with some recommended marital aids. Perhaps that’s why he has the best lines: “You’re here for the sex, right?” he rhetorically asks Ryan. “You don’t go nowhere wit’ me [if] I don’t fuck you?” True, although this lone woman is also being stalked by her ex (Kevin Bacon), a disheveled would-be doctor with a ratty dog, and bugged by her only student (Sharrieff Pugh), obsessed—wouldn’t you know—with serial killer John Wayne Gacy. What’s more, her dizzy half-sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) lives above the Baby Doll Lounge and, in a way, lives it—Leigh’s grisly performance invites an appropriate fate.
As befits its nightmarish narrative, In the Cut is wildly mannered. Campion tracks her star with a nervous, furtive camera and, even in moments of stasis, racks focus with abandon. Even the lens seems to be sweating and, as in earlier Campion films, the gooey ooze of action is annotated by dreams and prenatal memories. The city itself is full of occult signs. The mean streets resonate with spooky wind chimes and the words of the prophets are written on subway walls—it’s an urban haunted house, lacking only a medium played by Whoopi Goldberg.
Every man is a suspect and ultimately, poor Meg finds herself surrounded by guys, all sniffing around the same damn thing. Someone gets handcuffed to the bed, someone else runs barefoot into the East Village night. The risible ending is not so much wildly improbable as desperately concocted—possibly even after the movie wrapped.
“Making the Cut: Jane Campion’s Feminist Film Noir Stirs Up Pheromones and Occult Mystery in a Malevolent East Village” by Joy Press