As much as I like myself a steady diet of violence in my movies, I’m mostly unimpressed with the whole “torture-porn” phenomenon. It’s not the glorification that I take issue with; it’s more about the difficulty in putting together a half-way decent movie around the concept. Only Saw with its ingenious contraptions tied to life and death mind-teasers and Hostel which highlighted it all as a freakish fetish successfully married the two. Then came the mess that is their sequels and crap like Captivity. Today there is Tortured.
The premise of Tortured is built around the double life of FBI agent Kevin Cole (Cole Hauser). On one hand he is a hard working field agent for the FBI with something to prove to his father, FBI director Jack Cole (James Cromwell). On the other, he takes on the persona of Jimmy Vaughn, the muscle for a crime syndicate headed by a mysterious and very wanted underworld boss named Ziggy. To bring down Ziggy (and gain his father’s admiration), Kevin must sacrifice his humanity by extracting information from an accountant named Archie Green (Laurence Fishburne), a man accused of embezzling several million dollars from Ziggy’s dealings.
The shock of the movie is quite obviously the torture scenes. Kevin’s methods of persuasion are varied and all extremely painful to the recipient. Ever wanted to see a man’s fingernails being pulled out with a pair of pliers? How about repeated taserings or salt being rubbed into open wounds? These are just a few of the more popular methods that are performed by Kevin as he spirals deeper into uncharted territory — leaping across the line that separates the sane from the psychotic.
But wait, there’s more! Taking cues from mainstream thrillers, writer/director Nolan Lebovitz decided to toss a few curveballs into the film, which takes Tortured and flips it on its head. One twist is so improbable and hard to fathom, that once it is revealed, it takes all the air out of the room and wipes away what could be perceived as a good outing for Cole Hauser. I think it is safe to say that Hauser has been relegated to the lower planes of Hades, I mean Hollywood, but as a man clearly troubled with his situation, Hauser easily tops his more accomplished co-stars Fishburne and Cromwell. Speaking of Laurence Fishburne, I’m not entirely sure what has happened to his career but judging from his latest body of work it looks like he has started that slow, painful slide into obscurity. And I should state, unconvincingly half-assing the role of a guy fearful for his and his family’s life ain’t no way to get it back on track either.
But what should be expected from a straight-to-DVD film? Oscar worthy performances? Top-notch writing? Of course not. But with this caliber of talent (as compared to other video store fare), I couldn’t help but expect a bit more. I won’t go all out and exclaim that watching Tortured is in itself a form of torture but I can think of hundreds of other things I’d like to have been doing instead.