In the cut sees the great director delve into New York’s anxious post-9/11 days via a thriller about a woman who doesn’t know who she can trust.
Many of Jane Campion’s most famous works are period pieces: The piano and The portrait of a lady in the 1990s, Shining star in the 2000s, and The power of the dog in the new 20s. Often, Campion will root his projects in the past to show how prickly emotions like erotic attraction have always existed in society. The same goes for the most vicious side of humanity – its smug pretensions and cruelly constraining gender norms.
Under Campion’s insightful gaze, past and present are connected, inviting viewers to recognize themselves in characters who lived and died long ago. But if Campion’s most famous films have dealt with the past, it is not his exclusive competence. His 2003 thriller In the cut is both fixed and deeply rooted in the then present. She continues to explore the themes that have fascinated her throughout her career, but she does so through the unique form of the modern world.
Based on a novel of the same name by Susanna Moore (who also wrote the screenplay with Campion), In the cut centers on English teacher Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan). Frannie’s life is no picnic. Her love life has no pulse to speak of. One of his students writes an essay on the innocence of John Wayne Gacy. And then a woman’s severed arm appears in her yard.
Perhaps the most important part of In the cut the distinctly 2003 vibe is the lingering effect of 9/11.
The severed limb leads Moore to meet Detective Giovanni A. Malloy (Mark Ruffalo). Although abrasive and far from perfect, there is something enticing about Malloy’s demeanor. Moore quickly finds herself in love with him. Despite their newfound romance, her constant clashes with potential clues and incidents related to the local murderer will have her wondering who, if anyone, she can trust.
Moore’s life is set in the modern New York City landscape, a setting that contrasts starkly with the vintage international settings of his earlier films. The city setting allows Campion to incorporate a unique claustrophobia into his cinema. The sparse beach of The piano and vast dwellings rich in The portrait of a lady are traded for busy streets and cramped apartments. In the modern world, space is a luxury, and Frannie’s life reflects that. She has always shown herself to be cramped not only physically, but also by the potential dangers of men lurking both in the shadows and in positions of power.
It’s just one of many unique 21st– elements of the century that could never have existed in Campion’s earlier works located in various parts of the 19and-century. Familiar tunes play diabetically throughout In the cut strengthen internal emotions and perspectives. It would have been difficult for The piano to underline the fate of Holly Hunter with “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye” by Willie Nelson or “Relating to a Psychopath” by Macy Gray.
But in the hectic world of In the cut, popular music is an organic part of the texture and simultaneously functions as another indicator of how life still goes on around Frannie. And Campion deploys his needle drops to wonderfully disconcerting effect. The traditionally bubbly song “I Think I Love You” contrasting with the sight of Frannie recovering from the sudden and brutal loss of a loved one is particularly evocative. the ditty pokes fun at the tormented Frannie with reminders of happiness and peace that now elude her.
Thoughtful use of familiar radio staples isn’t the only way In the cut intelligently rooted in the modern world. His camera work also reflects the rushed nature of existence in 2003. The visuals take on a wearable quality evoking the features of cinema verité. Part of that is down to the more portable cameras Campion uses here, like the Moviecam Compact, which give the proceedings a decidedly modern feel. This creates a stark contrast to the flashback scenes, which depict Frannie’s father courting a lady in a sepia tone. The ancient nature of these glimpses of the past is enhanced by the finer visual details, capturing everything through higher frame rates or maximalist, dialogue-free performances from the actors.
These visual choices build a firm barrier between past and present within In the cut. The piano and The portrait of a lady viewers so immersed in a colorful and nuanced past that their settings of yesteryear were as immediate as they are today. With In the cut, meanwhile, Campion wants the delineation between past and present to be clear and explicit. Frannie’s view of the past is based more on a cutesy story of her father than an actual memory. Campion and cinematographer Dion Beebe make sure this is clear to their audience
Perhaps the most important part of In the cut the distinctly 2003 vibe is the lingering effect of 9/11. The aftermath of the day weighs heavily on the image. Frannie’s paranoia about who to trust and the killer’s elusive nature feel more palpable in the aftermath of the attacks. Even his initial dismay, but not extreme shock, upon learning that someone in his apartment complex had been horrifically murdered reflected how horrific violence had become familiar to New Yorkers after 9/11.
A bit like Spike Lee 25and Time, In the cutTimeless themes take on added resonance when seen in this context. Few things are so distinct at the start of the 21st-century than this atmosphere; a city and its inhabitants known to be suddenly grappling with a sense of vulnerability, even drift. This undercurrent gives a haunting quality even In the cutit’s the most tender moments – the quiet moments of positive connection between Moore and her adoptive sister Pauline Avery (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Holding on tightly to someone you love is all the more vital in the wake of all this loss.
Although deeply rooted in the 21st-century, In the cut remains interested in Campion’s favorite themes and motifs as her period work. Most notably, the occasional homophobia and cruelty in “joking” comments by Malloy and his fellow cops feels like a precursor to Phil Burbank’s hardcore cowboy act in The power of the dog. In both contexts, Campion uses macho language to demonstrate how socially acceptable forms of masculinity are constructed on the oppression of others. While it gives a sense of connection for the guys, it leaves people outside of that genre like Frannie feeling like they’re intruding on reality itself.
Skewed machismo bleeds into everything In the cut, to the point that it defines the character of Detective Richard Rodriguez (played by Nick Damici) before he’s even officially introduced when Malloy recounts the story of how Rodriguez nearly murdered his wife when she picked him up. caught cheating as a crafty thread. With this language, Campion delves into violence as a gateway to “ideal” manhood, one in which any sense of empathy or deviation from societal norms is to be ridiculed. These are the laws of the land, echoing the wickedness practiced by Sam Neill’s Alisdair Stewart in The piano and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil Burbank in The power of the dog.
Conversely, another key aspect of Campion’s cinematic craft is the erotic attraction portrayed through a female gaze. She deploys it with fascinating effect in In the cut. Malloy is often the object of Frannie’s affectionate ogling, with an added layer of neo-noir style. While he can dazzle Frannie with his small talk and nature in bed, Malloy’s shots are also often framed in a cold and unnerving way to reflect how unsure she is if she can trust him. Much like a femme fatale in classic noir, Campion portrays Malloy as someone who could steal or break your heart, or possibly both.
Despite the new temporal and narrative context, Campion’s undying interest in eroticism is still as apparent in In the cut. This includes its welcome penchant for capturing the frontal nudity of well-known male actors (Harvey Keitel to Benedict Cumberbatch to, in this case, Mark Ruffalo). While the Cumberbatch frontal moment in The power of the dog captured a fleeting moment of freedom and pleasure for Phil, Ruffalo’s brief nudity in In the cut compliments Meg Ryan’s similar nudity. It showcases their connection, the bond they’ve developed, and how vulnerable they can be with each other.
In the cut is far from a perfect film – again, Campion fails to do good by characters of color. At his best though, he manages the impressive feat of establishing a unique identity among his films, one rooted in the modern world, one that uses Frannie’s growing sense of uncertainty to capture and reflect the equally anxiety-inducing atmosphere of New York in the aftermath of September 11. In the cut is both a decidedly 21st-century work and no doubt in keeping with Campion’s beloved period pieces.