Meets "The Singing Detective" "In The Cut"
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
rash of movies about writers has broken out. And its an
eruption I welcome, even if the most widely anticipated of the
lot is a bit of a disappointment. A few words about that one
"Sylvia", starring Gwyneth Paltrow, falls into
the bio pic genre. The eponymous Sylvia is the legendary
poet Sylvia Plath, whose suicide mesmerized a generation of
poetry readers. So many books have been written about Plath,
her poetry and her marriage to Ted Hughes, Im surprised
its taken this long for a film to be made about her life.
Sadly, the celluloid "Sylvia" fails to sufficiently
resuscitate the Plath legend. Its not that Paltrows
performance is lacking. And the film does get off to a good
start with some bright banter among a gaggle of poets as director
Christine Jeffs focuses on the Hughes / Plath courtship. But
shortly thereafter the pacing of the film grinds to a lugubrious
Whats missing from "Sylvia" is the poetry. The
word is that Freida Hughes, Plaths daughter and the executor
of her estate, refused permission for the filmmakers to use
Plaths poems in the movie. It turns out to have been an
insurmountable obstacle. What might have been a fascinating
portrait of a talented poet simply runs out of steam.
Thats not the case with "The Singing Detective",
a dark and brilliant hybrid of a movie. The protagonist in this
faux noir is a writer of pulp fiction. By his own description
hes a prisoner in the cell of his skin. The movie is a
series of writerly imaginings and flashbacks, and the entire
story unfolds in a hospital. I would not normally share such
details of the plot, but most of you probably know that the
film is based on the highly successful BBC series of the same
What makes the movie so interesting, at least to me, is not
the twists of plot and the blending of genres, but the sheer
power of the writing. To be sure, Robert Downey, Jr. turns in
a fine performance, and its good to see him getting attention
for his on screen work rather than for his off screen difficulties.
Theres also a surprisingly good performance by an actor
Ive rarely admired. I wont mention his name. See
if you can spot him without benefit of the credits. But as good
as the acting is, the writing is better. Credit the late Dennis
Potter for that. And credit the direction of Keith Gordon, the
man who made the vastly under appreciated "Waking The Dead".
The third movie out now about a writer, "In The Cut",
is directed by Jane Campion.
Its possible to view "In The Cut" as a police
murder mystery, but that would be selling it short. I was far
more interested in Meg Ryans portrait of a complex woman,
fascinated with words, slang and snippets of poetry. Ryan plays
Frannie, a woman working on a book about the patois of the disenfranchised,
some of whom are her students. Shes smart in many ways,
but as a woman alone in the big city, not particularly attentive
to matters of personal safety. Its not that shes
oblivious, just easily distracted by her passion for language
and her yearning for sex and possibly love. The script contains
frank and realistic conversations about sex. And the chemistry
between Frannie and a detective played by Mark Ruffalo is palpable
and utterly convincing. "In The Cut" is raw and brilliant,
and one of the best movies Ive seen this year. But dont
bring the kids.
For KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.