Crime thrillers as we know them today are unquestionably the offspring of the work of auteurs and reinventors of the 90s. Scorsese, Tarantino, and even Guy Ritchie hit new heights with films like Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and Snatch. Fast talking characters who could turn from jovial to psychopathic in an instant. Manipulations of this formula can be seen in almost every antagonist of a crime thriller these days, but for British crime, Ritchie pretty much set the blueprint.
Unfortunately, Lock, stock… this film is not. Lies We Tell is closer in tone to BBC police dramas like Line of Duty. Character driven stories with enough danger to keep an audience invested. This is the first mistake of the film – the script. The plot is fine if a little uninteresting. When Harvey Keitel’s billionaire Demi dies suddenly, he leaves his chauffeur Donald (Gabriel Byrne) to terminate, and destroy any evidence of, his relationship with his young muslim mistress, Amber (Sibylla Dean). But when Amber is attacked in front of Donald, he comes to her aid. Acting as her protector, Donald is forced to help Amber deal with Demi’s entitled son and a local gangster threatening her family.
The problem is that there is no reason to care about any of this. Demi is introduced and dispatched before a bond can be shown between him and his driver, and afterwards there is no time devoted to building empathy for Donald. Instead of revealing and developing characters alongside plot as in good television dramas, the movie asks you to accept the characters for what they are. Without any real connection being formed, it is difficult to stay interested in the jumpy and relatively incohesive plot. It doesn’t help that the antagonistic characters are the most basic clichés: the spoiled brat with father issues, and the overly masculine wannabe gangster with a little too much power.
Aside from the script, the main issue with the film is the soap opera tactics it employs. Director Mitu Misra pipes in so much melodrama that it is often hard not to cringe. It is a shame from Byrne and Dean, whose performances are affecting without the deliberate effort to draw attention to them. For such a short film, there is a lot of dead space and time spent introducing unnecessary characters.
Crime films of the 90s are so highly acclaimed because their directors knew what was original, and what had been overused previously. The directors are masters of taking familiar concepts and re-contextualising to create something interesting. The biggest failing of Lies We Tell is to ignore this pioneering work, to copy what has come before rather than re-inventing, as so many films do in the modern age. One wanders if this film could have been something a lot better had Misra just seen more films. The again, perhaps it’s worth watching to see an aged Harvey Keitel dance around half naked.
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