The Honourable Wally Norman.

Starring Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh. Written by Susanna Moore & Jane Campion. Directed by Jane Campion.
Running Time: 119 mins
Rated:

I believe in giving points for effort. And In The Cut tries very hard. An adaptation of Susanna Moore's best-selling novel, the film is a dark and grimy love story (be prepared for highly graphic depictions of sexual intercourse) trapped within a beautifully rendered, if empty, police procedural. Franny Thorstin (Ryan), a writing teacher in New York City, becomes involved with homicide detective James Malloy (Ruffalo) who is investigating a series of murders in her neighborhood.

Or perhaps it isn't effort. Jane Campion is an accomplished and sometimes brilliant filmmaker. In The Cut might be further evidence that a talented director gets away with much that would be gimmicky and tedious in less agile hands. Campion's depiction of New York's lower East side bohemia is so spot on, I could almost smell the garbage. Like a Nabokov novel, Campion laces the film with coded symbols and referential imagery. The suspense evoked was real. Dion Beebe's cinematography is beautiful. There is much to recommend in the film.

And then there is Meg Ryan. To be fair, her character's failures are as much about bad writing as bad acting. But whoever is to blame, the role is incoherent. Franny is lifeless, her behaviour incomprehensible, her decisions incoherent. Opposite her drab, dullness, Mark Ruffalo is quite good as the homicide detective. His character may be mere homage to the American cinema noir of the 70s, but Ruffalo plays it well.

I will admit I haven't read the book, but I bet it is a suspenseful, chilling thriller. And I would parlay my winnings -- if I'm right -- on this bet: Campion should have let someone besides the novel's author write the screenplay.

Harden Grace is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.