In the Cut stars Meg Ryan as an aging spinster struggling with a listless love life while getting caught up in the hunt for a local serial killer. Within mere moments of the opening credits, In the Cut establishes itself as being tediously confused by jumping right in to an irrelevant and quickly aborted subplot focused on Frannie's (Ryan) relationship with a student. Yes she's a teacher, but that has little bearing on anything that happens, except as a smoke and mirrors distraction to try and throw in extra characters so In the Cut can play a fruitless game of "guess the murderer".
After her unexplained after school study meeting in a smokey bar (don?t all teachers meet their high school students in bars?), Frannie cats around town with her younger, hotter, looser, sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) talking about their unfulfilled lives as single women and lusting after relationships and/or sex. Pauline stalks more successful married men and Frannie has become an introvert in response to her loneliness. In the film's best scenes, the two talk openly and honestly about being a single woman and needing sex. That's where In the Cut really works, in examining complex relationships between adult, lonely people.
Later, Frannie meets a horny police detective named Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) and the two strike up a somewhat inappropriate yet fulfilling sexual tryst that after a bad night at a bar doesn't seem destined to go anywhere else. Ruffalo does a great job playing Malloy as complicated non-traditional character. He's not a "good guy" ready to swoop in and save Fran, but he's not exactly a bad person either. The sex scenes between them are unflinching and realistic, sexual but not necessarily sexy. Their relationship is turbulent and disjointed, with Malloy sometimes coming off as a jerk and other times a hero.
Where In the Cut falls apart isn't in its characters, which are well written and acted on all fronts, but its plot, which falls into tedious cliché and confusion. The murder investigation just doesn't work. Character reactions to fairly obvious facts are muted and confused. Frannie, when confronted with pretty strong proof that Malloy could be dangerous, inexplicably ignores it only to several days later confront him with it, as if it were some recent revelation. Malloy stumbles through the film fairly clueless, intent more on getting in Frannie's pants than actually solving his case. Neither character seems to have the wherewithal or brains to sit down and simply ask each other some decent questions which easily could have cleared out the entire mystery in under ten minutes. Instead they stumble around ignoring what's going on in front them, while the movie itself makes up reasons to insert unnecessary characters as an impotent way to hide the truth.
Whether as a result of bad editing or just plain shoddy writing, In the Cut fails both as a murder mystery and as a crime thriller. What does work, and wonderfully so, are the honest and open examinations of the characters running around in this wannabe movie mystery. Ryan delivers an image shattering performance, taking real risks in order to pull away from her usual "cutesy girl" image. Both she and Ruffalo deserve real credit for taking that kind of heavy acting plunge. I for one would love to see this movie redone without the crime and instead as a straight up relationship drama. But that isn't what we've been given. As it is, In the Cut and its disjointed murder plot are probably best avoided.