Torn: Film Review

This well-wrought, sensitive drama explores its incendiary topics with an uncommon subtlety.

Jeremiah Birnbaum's drama explores the unlikely friendship between two mothers after their sons are killed in a shopping mall explosion

A potentially melodramatic plotline is handled with a refreshing subtlety in Jeremiah Birnbaum’s quietly effective drama about the aftermath of a deadly shopping mall explosion. Depicting the burgeoning friendship between the mothers of two teenagers killed in the blast, both of whom are eventually suspected of the crime, Torn approaches its in incendiary topical issues with intelligent modesty.

After ten people are killed in a blast initially described as a gas main explosion, among the grieving survivors are Muslim, Pakistani-born Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch) and American single mother Lea (Dendrie Taylor). United by their shared grief, the two women turn to each other for emotional support. But their relationship eventually turns hostile when an investigation led by a police detective (John Heard) and an FBI agent (Sharon Washington) reveals that each of their sons is a suspect. Maryam’s son Walter, whose father Ali (Faran Tahir) was mistakenly arrested after 9/11, turns out to have been attending a local mosque. And Lea’s son Walter was the victim of school bullying who vowed revenge on his tormentors, several of whom were either killed or injured in the incident.

Michael Richter’s screenplay weaves together its various themes and such subplots as Lea’s tentatively resuming a relationship with her long estranged ex-husband (Patrick St. Esprit) with intelligence and sensitivity, not to mention an uncommon succinctness (the film runs a scant 80 min). The relationships between the complex characters are well drawn, and the ironic ending manages to touchingly upend our expectations.

Director Birnbaum has drawn well-nuanced performances from the ensemble, especially the two female leads who render their characters’ actions, such as Lea’s undisguised hostility to the authorities investigating the case, thoroughly believable.  

Although it’s ultimately a bit too slight to make much of an impact, Torn effectively demonstrates that hot-button issues can be explored without resorting to excessive histrionics.

Opens Oct. 18 (Brainstorm Media/The Film Collective)

Production: Fog City Pictures, Objective 49, Precept Productions

Cast: Mahnoor Baloch, Dendrie Taylor, Faran Tahir, John Heard, Sharon Washington, Patrick St. Esprit

Director: Jeremiah Birnbaum

Screenwriter: Michael Richter

Producers: Michael Richter, James Burke, Jeremiah Birnbaum

Executive producer: Jawad Qureshi

Director of photography: Sam Chase

Editor: Bruce Cannon

Production designer: Aiyana Trotter

Costume designer: Tamara Chandler

Composers: David Reid, Derek Bermel

Not rated, 80 min.