Style almost triumphs over content in Innocent Lies, an arty whodunit-cum-thriller that completely unravels in the third act but has a kind of anything-goes bravura that has to be admired. File this one under ‘interesting failures.’
Inspired by Agatha Christie (per movie’s end crawl) but not based on a specific work, film gets off to a pacey start with the death of Britisher Joe Green (Donal McCann, uncredited) near a cliff-top manse ‘somewhere on the French coast’ in September ’38. On the next plane from Blighty comes Inspector Cross (Adrian Dunbar), bent on discovering the truth behind his best friend’s apparent suicide.
A whole raft of characters are rapidly intro’d, starting with the owner of the avant-garde pile, Lady Helena Graves (Joanna Lumley), a snooty, acid-tongued widow with Nazi connections. Other inhabitants of the house are a shifty bunch with secrets to spare. Lady Helena’s daughter, Celia (Gabrielle Anwar), is a pouty sexpot about to marry a bemused American (Alexis Denisof). Her brother Jeremy (Stephen Dorff) labors under the guilt of having accidentally killed his brother when a kid, and is married to a Jewish woman (Marianne Denicourt), whom Mom loathes. Just to complicate matters, Celia and Jeremy appear to have a closer relationship than simply sister and brother.
French helmer/co-scripter Patrick Dewolf, who co-wrote several of Patrice Leconte’s successes (Monsieur Hire, Tandem) as well as directing the noirish English-lingo Lapse of Memory (1991), sets up a simmering atmosphere in the opening reels, but the movie falls uneasily between two stools, convincing neither as a murder mystery nor as a sexually charged meller. Anwar lacks a commanding enough screen presence to carry a movie of this sort.