Dir: Jane Campion (The Piano; The Portrait of a Lady)
Campion tries to elevate the soft core genre, and certainly lifts it up out of the usual muck where it resides. Not sure she quite reaches the pedestal of an intelligent erotic thriller, but this is no Sliver either (or Basic Instinct 2 for that matter, or any Sharon Stone crap).
Meg Ryan plays a middle aged teacher, in whose garden a severed head is found. She starts an affair with the detective on the case, played by Mark Ruffalo. Along the way, we begin to question whether Ruffalo himself is the killer. This adds an element of danger to their largely sexual relationship, hence the Basic Instinct parallels in my mind. Unlike The Pledge, I found the ambiguous identity of the killer created some tension, even if (ahem) I guessed the ending pretty early.
The sex is rather graphic. One on hand, I give Campion the benefit of the doubt that she found it important to the story (and it does help create a certain atmosphere). But then the cynic in me recognizes that the decision to show a certain body part being manipulated in a certain way, something that we almost never see in a film, for a few seconds could be the difference between a movie no one watches and one with "buzz" (or "humm" maybe). It was co-produced by a French company, so there you go.
Campion's politics were all over the place in The Piano, but here they work under the surface. The sexually self assured women in the film (including a fine performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh), can simultaneously recognize the self destructive side of their personal means of expression and avoid any negativity toward sex per se. This thriller is more learned than most. There is also some interesting camera work playing around with focus lends an ennui to the lives of the characters.
The middle of the movie drags a bit. I found it a bit too predictable in its unpredicatability. But this film is among the better movies of its kind I have seen in recent years. The subject matter is derivative, but Campion makes it interesting at times. Decent, bordering on pretty good. I wouldn't go out of my way to see it, though.