Christina Ricci makes for a wickedly perfect Lizzie Borden in the Lifetime movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax now available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Playing the title role, Ricci never allows the audience one moment of doubt as to what side the filmmakers come down on when it comes to whether Lizzie was in fact guilty of the brutal murders of her father and step-mother.
Without overplaying her hand or overstepping that line that would have turned her portrayal of Lizzie from put-upon daughter/angry young woman into psychopathic crazy-eyed killer, Ricci lets the audience behind-the-curtain and into the life of Lizzie as retold by screenwriter Stephen Kay (The Mod Squad) and director Nick Gomez (The Sopranos). And while you certainly won’t walk away from Lizzie Borden Took an Ax believing Lizzie was in any way justified for the vicious murders of her parents, at least the audience is given a bit of an explanation into why Lizzie was so frustrated and felt so trapped in her life that the only way out was to get rid of her parents. The extremely wealthy Andrew Borden was a miser, a skinflint who didn’t even provide his family with indoor plumbing. Lizzie and her sister Emma (played by Clea DuVall) were spinsters living unhappy lives as part of a dysfunctional family, resentful over the intrusion of their father’s new wife after the death of their mother. Lizzie stole from her parents and local stores, lied about her activities, and allowed her anger to build to the point where it took over and resulted in the delivery of 19 blows from a hatchet to Abby and 10 or 11 blows to Andrew.
The Lifetime movie also shows off a Lizzie who is mentally unstable and who would have, if the crimes were committed in contemporary times, likely have been diagnosed and sent to live out her life in an institution. Instead, the jury – thanks in large part in this version of events to the testimony of her sister – acquits Lizzie of the murders and sets her free. And in this version of the story, that makes Emma so nervous and frightened that she leaves her family’s home for good.
Both the wardrobe and production design help bring the 1890s to life, and if you’re a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby then the use of modern music during key scenes in the film will elevate the mood and not distract you from the production. Particularly of note is the playing of the Black Keys’ “Psychotic Girl” while Lizzie’s walking home from church with her family.
Overall, this retelling of the still unsolved (according to the Fall River, Massachusetts jury’s verdict) murders of Abby and Andrew Borden is a solid offering that doesn’t disclose any new facts but does stick fairly close to the actual murder case. There’s a too-quick and convenient wrap-up to the film, but that’s the only real sour note Lizzie Borden Took an Ax hits.
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Lizzie Borden Took an Ax is available on DVD and Digital as of April 8, 2014. The DVD version runs 88 minutes and is unrated.