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Cedar: ***

Paramount Pictures

Director: Philip Kaufman

Writer: Sarah Thorp

Cast: Ashley Judd as Jessica Shepard; Samuel L. Jackson as John Mills (Police Commissioner); and Andy Garcia as Mike Delmarco

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: R, for violence, language and sexuality

"Twisted" is a better title for this movie than "The Blackout Murders," which was considered early on.  Why is "Twisted" better?  The story line and the plot is about the twisted, inner turmoil going on in the lives of several of the characters.  The "blackouts" are incidental to the main action and are used by the murderer as a decoy.

If we look far enough back into our Indo-European languages, we find that "twist" once meant "quarrel."  To have a quarrel, at least two parties who are in disagreement over a matter of interest are needed.  We also find from our Indo-European languages that "twist" and "two" are related.  So we have two parties.  Each party has a set of interests.  These two parties disagree over whose set of interests is best or should be dominant.  Hence, we have quarrels, threats, fights, wars.  We usually imagine the "two" who are in conflict as being "out in the world," like two separate and distinct persons or races or nations.  Ironically, the "quarrel," the conflict of interests of the "two" can be in one person.  Each of us can be in a quarrel, can be "twisted," in our own inner most being.

This is the "twist" in Jessica Shepard: she is in conflict in her inner most being.  However, Jessica is not the only "twisted" character in the movie.  Let us look.

Ashley Judd's character, Jessica Shepard is a San Francisco police officer who has just been promoted to inspector in the homicide division.  In the first scene we learn that Jessica has a twisted character.  And a few scenes later we learn that Jessica "handles" her twisted, inner turmoil by living dangerously, both on and off duty.  Off duty, she picks up men in bars and has quick and casual sex with them.  She usually doesn't spend the night with them.  She goes to her apartment and drinks excessively, usually red wine.  It is with the excessive drinking that the "blackouts" begin occurring.  Shortly after the "blackouts" begin, a murder victim causes an interesting "twist" to develop in the story line.  While Jessica and Mike Delmarco, her partner, are into their examination of the first murder victim and the scene where the body was found, Jessica has a disturbing realization: "I know him.  I had sex with him."  Does Jessica become the prime suspect?

Several more occasions of "blackouts" are followed by more male murder victims with whom Jessica has had sex.  Does the plot "thicken" or become more "twisted"?

Samuel L. Jackson's character, John Mills is the Police Commissioner and he has a special interest for the well-being of Jessica.  Mills was the partner of Jessica's father years ago on the San Francisco police department.  Jessica's parents were killed twenty-five years ago, when Jessica was just six.  She was an only child and with no other family.  Mills made sure that Jessica had a good foster home.  He also made sure that she had a good education.  When she joined the San Francisco police force, Mills nurtured her through her career, and, now that he was Commissioner, he proudly oversaw her rise to homicide inspector.  Yet, what is his take on Jessica's relations with these murder victims and her dangerous life style?

Sarah Thorp, the writer of the story of "Twisted," had a brilliant intuition when she began the story.  She almost delivers on the promise of her intuition.  I am not going to fault just her for the movie not fully delivering on her intuition.  I can imagine that many compromises went into the shaping of the story line and that much of what she had intended never made it into the action or the dialog.  Let me praise something of her intuition that did make it without compromise: she saw that any intelligent person such as Jessica, who usually is calm, cool and collected on the "surface" of doing her duty as a homicide inspector, yet who exposes her life and career to easy, casual sex and excessive drinking has deep, inner conflicts.  Such a person is living with with life-threatening and unresolved turmoil.  The questions are: How can these conflicts be resolved?  Does one continue them until one becomes mentally unstable?  Does one continue them until one "blacks out" and "resolves" the conflicts by killing men, especially "killing her father who was never there for her"?  More of the action and dialog should have dealt with these kinds of questions.  Let me explain.

First, there is the "twisted" character of Jessica Shepard.  We come to understand that most of her twisted character stems from her reaction to the loss of her parents.  Although she was cared for, educated and nurtured by John Mills, Jessica was never allowed the appropriate opportunities to resolve the conflict in her life caused by the death of her parents.  She was never allowed to explore why her parents died the way they did.  In fact, the way they died has a "twist" to it, and it is only gradually that the truth about their death comes out.

Second, there is the acting ability of Ashley Judd.  Ms Judd was denied time and space to develop the character of Jessica Shepard.  Ms Judd has one of the best techniques of bringing her characters out of sleep and/or being drugged that his reviewer has ever seen.  In "Twisted," one can sense the fuzzy coming-to-consciousness and the very bad taste in the mouth as Jessica "awakes" after each "blackout."  And, Ms Judd has the ability to show an audience that she is bringing a thought to mind and that she is turning it into a performance to the point that an audience member "feels" both the thought and the performance.  She is a true "playactor."  However, in "Twisted" there was too much wasted time and space, which diminished Ms. Judd's ability to playact.  Let me name three scenes that could have been eliminated or rewritten so that they could have been given over to a fuller development Jessica's "twist" of conflicts.  First, the scene in which Jessica and Mike go onto the Bay in a boat "to determine the tide flow" could have been handled by mentioning "We can look up the tide charts."  Second, the time and space of Jessica's "aimless walk in the park while she reflects on the 'clues'" could have been devoted to some of Jessica's early childhood conflict over the death of her parents.  Third, "the obligatory scene in the parking garage, where the protagonist drops her car keys and, while she has trouble finding them, someone comes up behind her" was laughable.

Ms. Judd was given one scene, however, near the beginning of the film, to bring to performance the inner turmoil that was disturbing to Jessica and that was causing her to live such a conflicted life.  This one attempt was when Jessica comes home, goes into her walk-in closet, opens her lockbox in which she keeps "the unresolved past," takes out and looks at pictures of her parents, picks up two dolls of her childhood and kisses them.  This scene ended too soon. 

Most of the other scenes in "Twisted" follow the tradition formulas, both in action and dialog, except in one scene.  Very near the beginning, instead of a flock of birds arising in sudden flight for the scary effect on the audience, there is a very beautiful scene of a flock of birds, in flight, reflected in a woman's eye.  Alfred Hitchcock would have liked that scene.

I will say that the traditional formulas served most of the make actors well in "Twisted."  For this reason "Twisted" is another venue for the continued male dominance of our institutions of society.  The "true female movie" is yet to be made.

I think that Ms Judd should feel that she did the best she could, considering what she was given to work with.