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In the Cut

Year: 2003
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh
In the Cut is, at its basic level, a very plain murder mystery. Told from the point of view of Fran (Ryan) - who has more mysterious motivations and secrets than are explained in the running time - a killer is chopping girls up into gruesome bits, each victim a bit closer to Fran herself.

The premise could have been from a corny midday movie, but in director Campion and stars Ryan and Ruffalo's hands, it becomes lush cinematic poetry.

Campion takes this very plain murder mystery and wraps it up in a very David Lynch aesthetic. Characters and subplots seem to morph and wend through the movie to little apparent point, and you get the feeling you'd have to watch it at least three times to fully understand what each person or idea symbolises.

Realism is occasionally thrown out the window (or seems to be), heightening the sense that at times we're watching an elaborate dream, maybe just the product of a warped or damaged mind.

Ultimately, it's a case of style over substance. Neither the story nor the solution to the mystery are new and there's nothing very unpredictable about either - if you boiled away all the scripting, directorial, characterisation and performing flourishes you'd wouldn't be left with much.

But flourishes they are. Campion's use of the camera, her sets, colour palette and actors is lush, lyrical and sensual, tracking slowly across a room or a stretch of exposed skin with all the tenderness of a lover. The focus fades and changes within a single frame to lend the story a dreamlike quality - even when the subject is a filthy street or a strip club full of gyrating girls.

One of the big points of discussion will be Meg Ryan's presence. It's hard to forget the romantic fairy floss she's made her life's work for the better part of a decade, and she must have jumped at the chance to play a woman with 'issues' and disrobe for a respected director. She does fill the role of Fran well but overdoes the role's signature apathy a bit much.

Mark Ruffalo fulfils a much more interesting position as Malloy (the investigating cop with whom Fran starts a languid affair) by skating the edge of sleazy the whole time, making you wonder what she sees in him. It also heightens your discomfort with Meg's character; throughout the whole movie she seems to let everyone (including Malloy) lead her by the nose.

In the Cut is the sort of movie you'd expect a lauded male filmmaker to produce - or at least one catering to a mostly male film audience. Flashes of sex and nudity that only exist thanks to the envelope pushed by the likes of Romance and Intimacy do little to advance the story (apart from set a mood of sexually charged lethargy), and despite the sort of filmmaking skills and techniques that make the most of the medium, the parts add up to more than the whole. Which aspects are a triumph and which are a disappointment will depend on what sort of moviegoer you are.

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