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Sony Pictures // R // September 16, 2008
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 22, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

It would've been a lot easier if Tortured had been a bad film -- considering the ways the word "tortured" could've been used negatively here -- but this straight-to-DVD Nolan Lebovitz project is a fairly tense affair, though its gritty nature relies heavily on outside influences. It focus on undercover operative Kevin (Cole Hauser, Pitch Black), son of an FBI Director (James Cromewell, W.), as he infiltrates the infrastructure of organized crime lord Ziggy's operation. As he cuts his teeth through small random activities under his alias Jimmy Vaughn, he slowly wedges himself into the thick of the campaign. All this occurs without Kevin ever laying eyes on Ziggy, as he communicates through tape messages and phone calls. His latest batch of instructions come in the form of a line of torture questioning on Archie Green (Laurence Fishburn, The Matrix), a family man who seems to harbor knowledge regarding the whereabouts of some of Ziggy's stolen money.

Lebovitz presents Kevin's descent into a morally-tormenting atmosphere through the now-commonplace shattered time mechanic, pieced together in erratic fashion that makes following the line of events an unnecessary chore. At times, the rather bold visual mechanics in changing hair styles and clothing in other "rearranged" films can seem a little blatant and potentially unnecessary, but you'll wish there was something similar for Tortured. Even with timecards slid in before each scene, the material gets very discombobulating -- though, making the times bleed together without significant partition moments works as a part of the film's message on the effects of moral ambiguity.

Contained within these touch-and-go coherent scenes are an even wider range of effectual performances, from James Cromwell's one-note "tainted man of authority" a la L.A. Confidential to Fishburn's rather strong performance as a family man being brutally agonized for information he probably doesn't have. Fishburn's performance grunts and heaves with a tangibility about the performance, slowly transforming into one of desperation and emptiness that can be quite effective. One of the bigger surprises was Kevin Pollack as an aggressively helpful therapist under FBI retainer. He projects legit concern for Kevin, but does so in a fashion that makes him seem like he actually cares about prying the negative material from the undercover agent's conscience. Pollack steals these scenes of darkness from Cole Hauser, giving off one of his better roles since The Usual Suspects.

Cole Hauser doesn't do a bad job at filling in the Jimmie Vaughn / Kevin dual roles. Hauser's best attribute in Tortured is the ways that he constricts the flow of Jimmy's mannerisms into Kevin's world, and vice versa; he only allows little bits of each to intermingle, then covers these invasive moments up with a blunt shot of character reminiscent of Tom Berenger-style stoic emotion. His interaction with the great host of characters, even the "three stooges" -- aka three men standing guard in the dilapidated house where Green is being tortured -- works fine, if a bit obvious once his connection to the FBI is revealed. Whether he shows the attributes of a semi post-traumatic veteran of war, however, isn't as clearly visible.

Tortured's limited strengths come from its proximity to real-time torture epidemics, a theme eluded to in others media such as Sayid's character in Lost or even to more mainstream levels like in Man on Fire. There's an element at play, being the soldier acclimated to torture techniques to extract knowledge, that adds compelling neuroses to the main character. As it progresses, the film also begins to assimilate to a few of the themes at play in Bong Joon-ho's excellent Memories of Murder, mainly that of the act of a tortured individual approaching confession of a crime thy didn't commit just to have the torture stop. Tortured takes all of these ideas, haphazardly slap-dashes them together in gritty fashion, and churns them all into intense, affective scenes against the seemingly-innocent Archie Green. These scenes are done well enough, portraying the conflicted Kevin / Jimmy in a no-holds-barred fury against a man whom he's actually using as a pawn against the man ordering him to be tortured.

Morality becomes the central thematic device in Tortured, which tries to put Kevin in the tough position of sacrificing his life for his job -- the work that is changing his life, his feelings, and his projection as a normal guy. It barks up the tree involving which of these entities is being tortures more -- the physical torture of Archie, or the mental damage endured by Kevin. But when Kevin begins to rip the fingernails off, one after one, on a man that very well could be innocent of all implications other than association to Ziggy, it answers the question a bit clearer. These elements are introduced sharply enough, but don't try to dig too deep in lieu of crafting an easy flow that preps for a massive twist ending. There won't be too much head-scratching once the big reveal occurs, as it echoes a recent rash of twist-after-twist films like the Saw series and The Usual Suspects. The conclusion to Tortured might have been more novel had it come before these other flicks; yet, to the seasoned thriller fan, it'll just seem like borrowed material that botches the rhythm of a potentially unique and edgy film.

The DVD:

Sony Pictures presents Tortured in a standard keepcase package, adorned with a glossy slipcover that replicates both the front and back artwork.

The Video:

Tortured's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is surprisingly competent. There's a strong amount of edge enhancement during certain scenes, as well as a fair helping of digital grain veiled over the image. Outside of the image being a bit blurry, everything actually looks pretty darn good. Details on clothing, sharpness on lines, and color replication give the transfer a very cold, edgy feel that benefits the film's tone.

The Audio:

A little more discreet is the Dolby 5.1 presentation, which occurs in the middle of a heavily dialogue-driven drama / thriller. Surrounds don't come into play during most of the film, instead concentrating on verbal clarity during a large number of the scenes. Where compelte surround activity takes place is in the basement with Archie Greene. Great care was spent in replicating the encompassing sound effects, like the flicker of neon lights and bugs buzzing in the rear channels. It's a fine audio transfer with no discernible distortion that really ramps up the atmosphere at the right times. Audio is available in English 5.1, along with French, Spanish, and Thai 2.0 surround tracks. The subtitle options, however, are incredible: English, French, Spanish, Thai, Chinese, and Korean optional tracks are available.

The Extras:

Tortured: Behind the Scenes:
All we're working with in the supplement department is a nineteen (19) minute general assembly / marketing featurette, which highlights all the regular back-patting and director-toting. It does have some quality behind-the-scenes footage that show what the shooting locations were like, as well as some great candid interview time with Laurence Fishburn.

Also included are a slew of Previews for other Sony products, including Blu-ray as a digital medium, but no trailer for Tortured.


Final Thoughts:

Tense and thrilling amid its predictable twists and turns, Tortured takes its compelling premise and infuses it with suitably gruff performances -- while coming across the finish line with an overdone, numbing conclusion. It's worth the Rental to go through the "torture" once, but its finale backstabs the rhythm to certain degrees.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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