The Tortured Plotting

06/13/2012 4:00 AM |

The Tortured
Directed Robert Lieberman

There are two major arguments against the death penalty: that it’s inherently wrong for the state to kill its own people, and that it’s possible to kill an innocent man. The former is philosophical; the latter, scientific, a matter of evidence. As such, I think the latter makes for duller, more superficial art. Others disagree. Take The Tortured, a thinking man’s movie for dummies, which isn’t about the death penalty but vigilantism and torture, though its makers are faced with a similar choice: to attack the issue from a purely moral perspective, or to look at possible if unlikely problems in practice. Guess which way it goes?

Erika Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe star as parents whose young son is kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by a serial killer. After he receives a disappointingly mild jail sentence—highlighting the conflict between the individual’s and society’s different needs for justice—the two get revenge by kidnapping and torturing the killer, perpetrating violence that alternately satisfies, arouses, and disgusts them. (He’s a doctor, so the torture can get creative; like, here’s an injection that makes all your muscles cramp at once! Ouch!)

It’s so histrionic it’s campy: the crazy people are CRAZY, the upset people UPSET. Scene after scene involves someone screaming at someone else, or else clearly describing their emotional state, or identifying an underlying philosophical problem. The major one is whether it’s fair for victims to seek their own justice when the system lets them down; ultimately the filmmakers say no, but only because of some crazy plot twists. So, The Tortured comes out against vigilantes, but in the most convoluted and morally empty sort of way, the result of a thought experiment that requires little actual contemplation. The lesson might apply to this bananas case, but who’ll come away applying it to real life?

Opens June 15