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Case Number 17962: Small Claims Court

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Torso (2002)

E1 Entertainment // 2002 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // December 22nd, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Jim Thomas' flashbacks are enhanced with CGI.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Torso (1973) (published July 24th, 2009), Torso (1973) (published March 28th, 2000), and Torso (1973) (Blu-ray) (published September 27th, 2011) are also available.

The Charge

A Killer Body.
A Criminal Mind.
An Arresting Tale of Murder.

The Case

Evelyn Dick is kind of the Canadian Lizzie Borden. The steel town of Hamilton, Ontario, is shocked in 1946 when two kids discover a headless torso in the woods. Police eventually identify the body as John Dick, a conductor on a local train line. Inspector Wood (Callum Keith Rennie, Battlestar Galactica) immediately trains his gaze on the lovely widow, Evelyn Dick (Kathleen Robertson, Beverly Hills 90210), who is more interested in partying with high society than grieving. Evidence suggests that Evelyn's parents may have had a hand in the case, but the inconsistencies in Evelyn's stories pile up, as does the public outrage over her indecent lifestyle, and finally even her mother (Brenda Fricker, My Left Foot) testifies against her. Evelyn is convicted and sentenced to hang.

Enter attorney J.J. Robinette (Victor Garber, Titanic), who gets Evelyn a new trial, in which she is acquitted. However, as the second trial draws to its conclusion, a gruesome discovery is made in her home—a hidden suitcase containing the remains of an infant in concrete. Now Evelyn finds herself right back where she started—with a noose hanging over her pretty, pretty neck. E1 brings us Torso, a made-for-Canadian-TV movie that got a limited theatrical release overseas.

Torso catches your attention with its neo-noir feel. Director Alex Chapple frames Kathleen Robertson exquisitely, lighting her to enhance her sensuality, and to accentuate every last wisp of cigarette smoke; her allure is palpable. However, for all its good looks, the movie isn't particularly well-written, and that's where it gets into trouble: It never quite decides what kind of film it wants to be. The 1975 telefilm The Legend of Lizzie Borden wasn't afraid to speculate as to what really happened; Torso refuses to take that crucial step. From the very beginning, Evelyn does everything possible to implicate herself—she's indifferent to her ex-husband's death, she lies to the police, she tramps around with the wealthy. The physical evidence, though circumstantial, certainly points in her direction. Instead of trying to get to the heart of what actually happened, the movie instead tries to explain how Evelyn turned out the way she did. Several flashbacks suggest that her parents started pimping her out at an early age, that they taught her to be a gold-digging tramp, and that they may have gone as far as incest. Once the dust is settled, we're left not knowing exactly what happened or even why. Further muddying the narrative waters, several flashbacks turn out to be false, which undermines the credibility of the remaining flashbacks—we never get a feel for where the truth really lies.

Callum Keith Rennie brings the same sort of intensity that he showed as Leoben in BSG, but more controlled. Victor Garber turns in another solid performance—he's consistently good, no matter what the situation. Both are more or less stock figures, though. Kathleen Robertson paints the perfect image of the femme fatale, but has trouble suggesting the hidden vulnerabilities the script demands; the overuse of quick flashbacks contributes to the problem; too often the film has a quick flashback to some lurid childhood event, only to cut back to Evelyn with the same haunted expression. The performance that sticks out is Brenda Fricker as Evelyn's mom. While Evelyn's quick flashbacks undermine Robertson's performance, they enhance Fricker's performance because they make us re-evaluate everything she does, resulting in more than a few chilling moments…but only if you accept the flashbacks as truth. Her magnificent poker face only exacerbates the situation. Her performance raises another question that is left hanging amidst the "What Happened To Them All" text that concludes the film: What happened to Evelyn's daughter after Evelyn went to prison?

Video is OK; images are crisp, but dark scenes tend to get swallowed up by poor contrast, with the darker shades of gray just being black. It works for prison and interview scenes, as it enhances the sense of confinement, but the same thing happens every time there is any amount of darkness in the frame. The mono audio track is quite clear. The only extra is a trailer.

The Verdict

The court finds the defendant guilty of raising too many questions that are left unanswered. Torso is a technically proficient film, but it's undermined by a script that never quite addresses the central questions in a true crime movie. If you simply accept that she's guilty, it works a little better, though the various flashbacks still leave you wondering to what degree her parents were involved.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile

Studio: E1 Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• Spanish
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Crime
• Mystery
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Wikipedia: Evelyn Dick








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