Twisted (2004) poster

Twisted (2004)


USA. 2004.


Director – Philip Kaufman, Screenplay – Sarah Thorp, Producers – Barry Baeres, Anne Kopelson, Arnold Kopelson & Linne Radmin, Photography – Peter Deming, Music – Mark Isham, Visual Effects – Industrial light and Magic (Supervisors – Eric Brevig & Mark Casey), Special Effects Supervisor – John McLeod, Makeup Effects – Creative Makeup Effects/Harlow Concepts (Supervisors – Joel Harlow & Ve Neill), Production Design – Dennis Washington. Production Company – Paramount/Kopelson Entertainment/Intertainment.


Ashley Judd (Inspector Jessica Shepard), Andy Garcia (Inspector Mike Delmarco), Samuel L. Jackson (Commissioner John Mills), David Strathairn (Dr Melvin Frank), Mark Pellegrino (Jimmy Schmidt), Camryn Manheim (Lisa), D.W. Moffett (Raymond Porter), Leland Orser (Edmund Cutler), Russell Wong (Lieutenant Tong), Titus Welliver (Dale Becker), Richard T. Jones (Wilson Jefferson)


After she apprehends a serial killer, San Francisco police officer Jessica Shepard is promoted to inspector and appointed to a new position on the homicide squad. Jessica is haunted by the memory of the violent murder of her mother by her father when she was a child and drinks heavily and engages in one-night stands with anonymous men. On her first case, she realises that the murdered body she is looking at is one of her one-night stands. Another man that she slept with also turns up murdered in an identical way and she realises that she is dealing with a serial killer who is obsessed with her. At the same time, she cannot be entirely sure if she herself is not doing the killings during her alcoholic blackouts.

Philip Kaufman would certainly be on any list of directors who make too few films. Kaufman seems to only make two-to-three films per decade. When Kaufman does do so, he has turned out some gems – the little-seen The White Dawn (1976) set amongst the Inuit, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), the gang film The Wanderers (1979), the true-life Space Mission saga The Right Stuff (1983) and the underrated Michael Crichton adaptation Rising Sun (1993).

In more recent years, Kaufman has taken to literary works that explore alternate sexuality with the likes of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1987), the superbly underrated Henry and June (1990) and Quills (2000) about the Marquis de Sade, as well as his long-planned production of Liberace, but appears to have gone into retirement following the tv movie Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012). Kaufman has had a number of genre associations, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the little-seen comic-book hero spoof Fearless Frank (1967), his at one point being assigned as the original director of Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979), as well as coming up with the original story idea for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Twisted has a great many similarities to Taking Lives (2004), released only three weeks later, which was also about a serial killer who becomes fixated with a female detective. Both film also disappoint in identical ways. Both are routine in terms of character and most of all both hinge upon revelations that are absurdly contrived. One expected much from Twisted with Philip Kaufman in the director’s chair but the film fails to work at all. Indeed, one would have to say that Twisted is the only one among Kaufman’s films that disappoints heavily.

Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson & Ashley Judd in Twisted (2004)
(l to r) Andy Garcia, Samuel L. Jackson & Ashley Judd

All of Philip Kaufman’s other films are intelligent and above average and pay great attention to character, whereas Kaufman seems to have invested little care in what he was making when it came to Twisted. The plot twists are distinctly lacking in surprise – one was easily able to predict the unveiling of the killer’s identity, while all the victims and plot twists are heavily signposted in advance. There is one quite interesting turn the film takes where it starts to suggest that it was Ashley Judd herself who did the killings during one of her blackouts but at no point does Kaufman lend any conviction to this idea.

Ashley Judd is certainly an intelligent performer and makes the character far more driven and alive than the perpetually bland Angelina Jolie did in the equivalent role in Taking Lives. Alas, one failed to buy the character that Judd portrays here. She is outfitted with some unusual features – that she is drinking to escape the demons of her past and that she engages in casual sex with men she picks up in bars. However, these are only character traits that the film adds for the purpose of twist revelations later in the show and crucially the self-destructing, out-of-control character that Judd is portrayed as being is never anything we see any more of beyond the absolute minimum needed to set up said plot points. It is almost as though Ashley Judd had contracted solely to do a couple of scenes drinking and one PG-rated sex scene and refused to give anything to the role or emotionally go into any darker or less glamorous territory beyond what her contract specified. There is simply no emotional resonance created for these aspects of Judd’s character.

Philip Kaufman has made a number of films – in particular, Henry and June and Quills – that push an envelope in terms of sexuality. Alas, there is none of that in Twisted. Indeed, Twisted belies its title promise, both in terms of dark psychology, sexuality or even contortions of plot. A more appropriate title might have been Mildly Contorted.

Trailer here

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