A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Jane Campion's "In the Cut" has ornaments of a thriller about sexually bold women, but ticking away underneath is the familiar slasher genre in which women are the victims. What makes it stranger, and a little scarier than it might have been, is the way its heroine willfully sleepwalks into danger, dreaming of orgasm.
Frannie Avery (Meg Ryan, reshaping her image with a bad-girl role) is a high school English teacher who likes sex and wishes she got more of it, but not from the guys she's been getting it from, who tend to be obsessed weirdos. Her half-sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is also sex-deprived; at one point, as they're discussing a man who Frannie has every reason to be wary of, Pauline advises her sister to sleep with the guy "if only for the exercise." This man is James Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), a homicide detective, who meets Frannie while investigating the murder and "de-articulation" of a woman whose severed limb was found beneath Frannie's window. James is the kind of man who talks about sex in a way that would be offensive if he didn't deliver so skillfully what he describes so crudely. "How did you make me feel like that?" Frannie asks him after their first encounter. He must have made her feel really good, because later, even after she begins to suspect he is the de-articulator, she goes on another date. This is a new variety of high-risk sex: Get as much action as you can before being de-articulated.
James wanders in a musky daze, too, in a movie where the sex is so good they both keep getting distracted by their duties as potential victim and possible killer. Campion's screenplay, co-written with Susanna Moore and based on Moore's novel, locates these characters close to street level in a hard-bitten New York neighborhood where people act on their needs without apology. The story has fun playing against certain conventions of the slasher genre, and the dialogue has a nice way of sidestepping cliches. Listen to the words and watch the body language as James responds when Frannie asks him, "Did you kill her?" Without for a moment revealing if he did or didn't, I can promise you that Ruffalo's choices here are true to this character and do not come from the pool of slasher cliches.
The movie is leisurely, as thrillers go, but I liked that, especially in the intimate conversations of the two sisters, who sound and behave like two women who have understood each other very well for a long time. Ryan and Leigh have a verbal and emotional shorthand that creates a kind of conspiracy against the mechanics of the plot: Sometimes even when you're in danger you can still feel horny. And James' introductory pitch to Frannie, when he tells her who he can be and what he can do, shows that he knows who he is and who she is; that's why she lets him talk that way -- even though she walks out when his partner (Nick Damici) tries for the same crude note.