IN THE CUT directed by Jane Campion, written by Campion and Susanna Moore from Moore's novel, produced by Nicole Kidman and Laurie Parker, with Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh. 113 minutes. A Sony release. Opens Friday (October 31). For review, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 113. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Jane Campion breaks balls with her movies, and that is still thrilling. Up to now, that thrill has had less to do with the stories she tells than with the perverse, punishing grace she brings to telling them. For all its elegance, The Piano is savage in wresting its viewpoint womanward.
But now, with In The Cut, Jane Campion breaks balls for real.
Adapting Susanna Moore's novel and shooting in New York for the first time, she turns in a brutal thriller. She strips Meg Ryan of her twinkly charms, threatens her with men's violence at every turn and throws her into a cat-and-rat romance with Mark Ruffalo. In Campion's hands, he's not the puppy dog he was in You Can Count On Me.
In The Cut is often unpleasant to watch, yet endlessly fascinating. When Campion appears in the interview room during the Toronto International Film Festival, my eyeballs are still smarting. She had the same reaction when she first read the book.
"I was absolutely chilled by the end and could hardly talk," she says. But she remembers "how sexy I thought it was."
Still, she thought, "I dunno about this book. I'm trying to be a Buddhist or something." She stops for a second. "I'm not trying to be anything any more, but, yeah I am a meditator and a yoga girl. It's just part of self-maintenance."
But the story of a woman drawn into danger partly through her own desire pulled at Campion's darker side.
"It made me look very deeply into some of the things I guess I'm afraid of," she says. "Being alone, as a woman, what that means, and what the myths are that control us in terms of romance in our lives."
Taken broadly, that last bit is a key to Campion's work. In The Piano, in Sweetie, in The Portrait Of A Lady and Holy Smoke, women lash out - or in - against the myths that control them. Campion has made a career of staring those myths down.
"I think I'm able to be an artist or a filmmaker because I find my freedom in it," she says. "This is the place where I'm completely, happily exposed, whereas in life I feel a lot more self-protective."
In person, Campion is a visible contradiction. Her mouth is tight but her eyes are curious and expansive. Her hair starts grey at the crest of her forehead but bleeds to brown and then blondish where it stops at her shoulders. It's a mature woman's hair, but today it's pulled into girlish pigtails.
Campion is wilful like that, but her will wasn't strong enough to hold on to producer Nicole Kidman.
The story goes that after her breakup with Tom Cruise, Kidman left the project, unwilling to face such a raw, sexual story with such a strong director. That doesn't explain Lars von Trier's Dogville, but it's the story.
"It was a very sad decision," Campion says, "for her probably more than me, because I was the one who was going to complete the journey. I love her, but I was never, like, 'It's gotta be Nicole.' In fact, I hate to feel dependent in that way. If Nicole wants to do it she does it, and if she doesn't want to do it she doesn't do it. Simple, you know? No biggie."
When Campion talks, it's as if she's cut sentiment out of her life the way movie heroes pick shrapnel out of their own wounds.
"When (Kidman) realized - for reasons I felt deeply compassionate toward her about - that it wasn't the right thing right now, we wanted to find the person who did really want to do it. And, surprisingly, for all of us, it was Meg."
Meg Ryan has made 30 movies and is one of Hollywood's few true bankable stars, but Campion still made her audition for the role.
"The way she talked about the story was so deep and interesting that it really had me sitting up and listening," she says. "I thought, 'She gets it. '"