Though Jane Campion's sexually explicit adaptation of Susanna Moore's 1995 novel has shortcomings as an erotic thriller, it's a fascinating deconstruction of an exhausted genre. Think of it as LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977), with a feminist twist and a startling performance by America's erstwhile sweetheart Meg Ryan. Fascinated by words and the ways they're used and abused, New York City English teacher Frannie (Ryan) attempts to explain Virginia Woolf and the notion of irony to smart but underachieving city teenagers while using their input to write a book about slang. Good with words, Frannie is less than brilliant when it comes to men: a careless fling with an unstable medical student (Kevin Bacon) has left Frannie with a full-time stalker, and she begins a dangerous flirtation with gruff NYPD detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), who's investigating the discovery of a young woman's severed head in the garden behind Frannie's building. The victim appears to have been killed by a repeat murderer with a savage MO and a cruel signature. After slashing his victim's throats and wrenching her limbs from their sockets, the killer leaves the "disarticulated" corpse with what women are supposed to desire above all else: an engagement ring. Malloy is curious about Frannie's whereabouts on the day of the murder, and she admits to having been at the local bar where the victim was last seen, but withholds a crucial detail. She saw the woman in the bar's shadowy basement, performing oral sex on a man with a wrist tattoo exactly like Malloy's. Frannie is undeterred by the notion that her new lover might be a serial murderer, but the pervasive dread that hangs thick over the city begins to coil tightly around her when she's attacked after visiting her half-sister/best friend, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh); their father was a serial wedder who also handed out engagement rings like candy. No longer a mere bystander, Frannie has become the target of someone's deadly obsession. There are a few gaping holes in the story's logic, and the ending is cliched even by genre standards. But Campion and Moore (who adapted Moore's novel together) have embellished the original story with a few twists that dovetail with Campion's own concerns, including the price of female desire and the bond between sisters. Ryan is raw and remarkably good, but the film's real star is New York. Draped in post-9/11 anxiety and brimming with a free-floating fear, the city hasn't appeared this threatening since the '70s. IN THE CUT was released on video and DVD in two versions: The R-rated theatrical cut and an unrated director's cut that included a few additional seconds of sexually graphic material.
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