Director: Philip Kaufman
Cast: Ashley Judd, Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson, David Strathairn, Mark Pellegrino, Titus Welliver, Camryn Manheim, Leland Orser, Richard T. Jones
Plot: Jessica Shepherd (Judd) is promoted to Homicide, when the dead bodies of her ex-boyfriends start piling up. Stalker, serial killer wanting to frame her, or is she the murderer herself?
Wow, this movie isn’t liked. With one of the lowest ratings on IMDB, you would think that Twisted was a nightmare of a production. One of those truly awful films that is almost universally agreed impossible to get along with. Imagine my surprise, when I found Twisted to be a, while not great, moderately entertaining cop thriller with an engaging mystery and strong central character.
That strong central character is Ashley Judd’s Jessica Shepherd. As we learn through her many psychtrist meetings throughout the film, Shepherd is traumatised by the death of her parents. Enraged at a cheating wife, her father shot her and then himself, leaving Shepherd without parental guidance and believing herself offspring of ‘bad people’. On the surface, she is functioning well considering, a brilliant detective recently being promoted to homicide. However, her private life is a string of one night stands and nights where she drinks herself to sleep. When her first homicide case focuses on a serial killer that seems fixated with her ex-lovers, she is forced to confront her demons and question why she is being targeted? Twisted’s main attraction is Ashley Judd and this interesting character she has been given. I have always liked Ashley Judd and this is a performance worthy for any fan of her work. Shepherd might look like a bunch of cliches strung together at first glance. Alcoholic, dead parents, bad-tempered… however, Judd’s character work rises above the stereotypes. I rarely stopped to think about how the only new trick Twisted has for its lead hero is giving the role to a female rather than a male, because the character was so believable. She doesn’t feel like a character given these antagonistic problems out of a screen-writer’s handbook, but a character going through a very real struggle and reacting as one naturally would. As a result, Judd’s performance is the best thing on show here, the actress bearing her soul for the audience to see and going to do some dark places to help the character hit home. In all of the negative reviews out there, this is the one aspect I think people miss.
The character also brings up some interesting points on women in both cinema and in the police force. Or perhaps women in general. Seeing as the film was created in 2004, we have to dial our gender politics back a few years, but it was an interesting snapshot of both female characters back then and how women were treated in general. Perhaps a few points still hit home today. Shepherd is, by all means, a very progressive character. Even forgetting the fact she is the lead cop in a thriller, something often lacking in that decade, but she is more than a match for any male character on show. She is on the same wavelength with the police banter, physically strong and a very sharp detective. She is also sexually active. People have described the character’s trait of spending her free time trawling bars and picking up strangers for sex as a contrived plot point. The writers are pushing the ‘strong female’ too far in our faces, especially seeing as those one night stands are a crucial plot point, constantly reminding us how liberal Jessica is with her sex life. However, I think it helps bring up some interesting debates, especially when we look at how she is treated by the other characters. Almost every male in the movie looks past her talents as a detective and views her a sexually available figure. As soon as the one night stands become public knowledge, the attitude towards Jessica changes. She is constantly fending off the supporting cast, as they decide that she is very likely going to look for solace from the movie’s drama through sex. In trying to be strong and not conform to the image the male audience has set for her, Ashley Judd’s character finds herself even more sexualised and objectified than before. Perhaps the writers are trying to make a statement about how gender politics is an impossibly steep uphill struggle, even when the female in question is as badass and talented as Jessica Shepherd. On the other hand, I couldn’t escape the niggling feeling that there was also an argument to be made that sexually free women were a part of the problem from the script. The plot revolves around Jessica’s sex symbolising a death warrant for men. Even the rapist at the start of the movie is defeated through Jessica’s sexuality. Regardless your reading, I didn’t see the reliance on sex as a plot contrivance, rather something that made Twisted rather interesting to step back and discuss.
Of course, I rarely rate a movie based on social debates. Hell, I could probably write an article about the womansing and sexual politics in the Sharknado trilogy, but that wouldn’t make them smart films. So, back to the movie at hand. Twisted presents a moderately thrilling mystery. While I wouldn’t call it one of the greats, it doesn’t deserve the infamy it gets either. This genre’s problem is that it is always being compared to films like Se7en and it, of course, never holds up. What Twisted does is offer a nice mystery: who is using Jessica to satisfy serial killer desires? Is it connected to the death of her parents? Is Jessica blacking out or being drugged? The pacing needs work – essentially a string of conversations revolving around the case, rather than anything overly pulse-pounding or visually stimulating – but it works well enough to get you thinking about the story? It does have its lion’s share of flaws. While Jessica Shepherd is a brilliantly three-dimensional character, no one else is. Andy Garcia is the partner, Sam Jackson is the wise mentor and Strathairn is the psychiatrist figure. Their performances aren’t bad at all. In fact, Twisted works as a neat little thriller where you get to see your favourite actors doing what they do best. However, they aren’t fully-formed characters in their own right, merely doing what the story needs them to do. When the killer is revealed, it feels a little anti-climatic, because there is too little character development. The motives are explained, but not felt. I can see where the hate is coming from, but Twisted still deserves more praise than it is getting.
Final Verdict: Tame, but worth watching even if it just for a fantastic performance from Ashley Judd and a strong female lead.