Torn struggles to carry out its intended message
In post-9/11 America, it’s no mystery that racism against the Muslim-American community has increased dramatically. Islamophobia is running rampant, and the new film Torn attempts to expose this issue by exploring the aftermath of a suburban bombing. But while the film has good intentions, the film misses the mark and struggles to rise above the air of TV-movie quality.
Torn follows the experiences surrounding two mothers as they lose their sons to a local mall bombing. Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch), a Pakistani-American real estate broker, and Lea (Dendrie Taylor), a struggling office custodian, bond over their mutual grief. The two first meet amid the chaos following the explosion, and quickly form a provisional but intimate friendship. The bond, however, is shattered as swiftly as it formed when Maryam’s son becomes a suspect in the attack.
Racism and violence quickly surround the life of Maryam and her husband, Ali (Faran Tahir), as the news leaks to the local community. Her son Walter is depicted as a Muslim teen bitter toward the American culture, and snap judgments place him as the ultimate suspect. Maryam begins to lose her clients, and in one instance a brick is hurled through the family home, with “Terrorists Go Home” vandalized onto the garage door. Ali pleads with his wife to return to their native Pakistan, believing they have no place in this racial environment. Though they are both American citizens, he stresses to his wife, “We are foreigners and we always will be.”
The controversy surrounding Walter soon poisons the two mothers’ new friendship, as Lea tells Maryam, “How can I be your friend? Your son killed Eddie.” This sudden schism represents a rather startling depiction of present-day America. Whereas days earlier the two were emotionally bonded, a sudden news headline destroys any connection toward Maryam that Lea once had.
Torn flips the situation rather suddenly, however, when Lea receives startling news that her son Eddie was harshly bullied in school, and only days before the bombing he threatened to kill his tormentors. As the bullies were causalities of the bombing, Walter is no longer the main suspect, but Eddie is a suspect as well.
This is where things go south. The sudden alignment of the two mothers’ situation comes off as rather contrived and basic, and it appears altogether unrealistic that the two are suddenly plunged into these equalizing situations. In a movie that wishes to present the realistic nature of racism in contemporary America, it relies on a rather unrealistic plot device. If its aim was to attack racial stereotypes, it falls flat and only works to diminish the film’s credibility.
As the two suspects are pitted against each other, Torn quickly devolves into an almost TV-cop mystery of ‘whodunit.’ Though the movie runs at a modest 80 minutes, it struggles to maintain the viewer’s interest with anything more than finding out the true culprit of the attack. And though that question keeps you guessing until the very end, the movie is forced into a genre in which it is not meant to fill. Rather than expounding on the prevalence of racism and prejudice, it merely slowly teases you with the want of closure. The film can’t seem to take off after the initial plot is laid out, and viewers often have to ask themselves if this is more an episode of Law and Order than any sort of cinematic social commentary.
In light of its pitfalls, the film is largely carried by its crisp cinematography and the acting prowess of both Baloch and Taylor, whose reactions to the sudden loss and upending of their lives allows for a sense of connection with the two mothers. Taylor contrasts Baloch with a very rough-around-the-edges persona, and the character’s weathered nature provides for a greater sense of realism and a raw style of grief. Baloch’s representation is much more reserved, eliciting her struggle to maintain the equilibrium of her suburban life and stay afloat in her suddenly racially charged climate.
In the end, Torn will elicit the viewer’s emotions and perhaps even allow for a greater social awareness, but it in no way reaches its true potential. Its premise is enticing on paper, but in practice, Torn just can’t seem to get off the ground. If done properly it had the possibility to have been this year’s dark horse, but instead it falls short in carrying out its intended message.
2 out of 4 stars