Browsing Criterion Channel’s vast collection is almost enough to take up a great portion of your day. More recently, I took advantage of the extra hour granted to us and indulged in a little Sunday morning Double Feature of Klute and In the Cut – two films, 30 years apart – and asked myself many questions. Chief among them: are these noir?
The prior (Klute) was always a film that I had wanted to see, largely based on my late father’s fondness for the Alan J Pakula classic from 1971. In the Cut was far less familiar to me. The passing knowledge I had acquired came and went as fast as it had during its initial theatrical run in 2003.
On its surface, I can see why the curators of the Collection thought it would be a great idea to pair these two films together:
- Female leads whose sexual expression play a major role in the films’ narrative;
- NYC as a backdrop;
- Exposure of a seedy underbelly to a perceived genteel society (although In the Cut strips away a lot of that veneer from the get-go).
So I guess the question after viewing is – what did I think of these films, separate and apart? Fine out under the cut.
Although the film had come recommended I was not sure what to expect from Klute. It had a few things going for it (for me at least). Most importantly that Klute was made during a time in filmmaking punctuated by a palpable sense of paranoia and foreboding. This was a vibe that makes watching and studying these films quite fascinating.
On many fronts, Klute delivers. Contrasting performances from the leads – a grounded, desperate turn by Jane Fonda in a finely tuned and award-winning role. Donald Sutherland’s performance has muted, subdued quality to it. His portrayal of an out of towner dragged into a seedy, degenerate world is equally effective. Finally, in a supremely slimy supporting role, Roy Scheider’s character makes me feel like I need to shower after every time he “graces” us with his presence on screen.
Still, after watching the film, I am hard pressed to decide what’s the MacGuffin – the missing person’s case or the relationship between the two mains. I guess the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Klute succeeds because it is an intertwining of the two plots, the one feeding the other, which makes this a successful and interesting film to watch.
The contrasts are further amplified by the setting. Once the audience is away from the quiet of the Pennsylvania “countryside,” we see the variant levels of depravity and intrigue on full display in a decaying NYC, which is so evocative of that era.
And for all of this “energy” pulsating throughout this film, Klute is simultaneously a quiet, deliberately paced film.
IN THE CUT
As I previously mentioned, I had very few details about the film. What I do remember is that In the Cut was billed as a radical departure for Meg Ryan. Although, if memory serves, I am pretty certain that at this phase of her career, the moniker of “America’s Sweetheart” was a little less bright – due in part to things that have nothing to do with her acting and which I will not be elaborating on in this forum. But I digress.
I went into this blind – with a vague understanding of the plot – and with the knowledge that In the Cut with its contemporary setting, was viewed a change of pace for director Jane Campion, primarily known for her period dramas, such as the award-winning The Piano.
After watching this film, I have reconciled my feelings and the conclusion I draw is pretty clear. Frankly, I was not a fan. The central ‘mystery’ fell pretty flat and Jane Campion’s attempts at a complex psychodrama were not impactful to me as a viewer. To the point where I went to Wikipedia DURING THE FILM to see how it ended. My reaction?
On the slightly more positive side, it is shot pretty well and Meg Ryan’s lead performance lands for me. Unfortunately, a lot of the supporting characters fall into the clichéd stereotypes of characters.
I conclude with a hope that the source material from which this film is adapted, is more interesting.
BUT HOW ARE THEY TOGETHER?
Despite my issues with In the Cut, I will admit that as a double bill, it works. Your own assessment of how effective each work individually is up to you as a viewer.
On a related note, this is the first time in a while that I have taken advantage of this Criterion Channel curation. So on a slightly more positive note, I highly recommend that you all (if available) take a look at the titles featured.
BONUS SECTION: BUT ARE THEY NOIR?
In the spirit of #Noirvember, I will spend a second looking at both of these films through the lens of noir/neo-noir. As any fan of the genre can attest, there are a host of definitions for what classifies a film as a noir. The interpretation gets a little looser the more contemporary the film is in my observation.
In looking at these two films, Klute resides closer to the tenants of what makes a noir a noir in terms with its combination of tension, mystery and cynicism. When I think of Pakula’s body of work, I think of political-spy thrillers and government conspiracy, so it took me a minute to arrive at my conclusion. But it makes sense – the political/spy thriller draws on many similar elements as a noir.
In the Cut nods in this noir-ish direction with its rough and tumble detectives and similarly “dark” underbelly, but it falls apart because, at the end of the day, I really could care less about the central mystery or the fates of any of the characters.
Have you seen these films, individually or collectively? Let me know your thoughts below.