×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Lies We Tell’

A liberated young Muslim woman finds an unlikely protector in her married lover's driver in this cluttered, unconvincing thriller.

Director:
Mitu Misra
With:
Gabriel Byrne, Sibylla Deen, Mark Addy, Jan Uddin, Emily Atack, Harvey Keitel, Reese Ritche, Danica Johnson, Gina McKee.

1 hour 50 minutes

Gabriel Byrne moves pensively, wearily, through Mitu Misra’s “Lies We Tell,” as though through a much better film. For a time, as the doggedly loyal chauffeur and secret-keeper of a rich boss, dunking his dialogue into a comfy Northern England accent like a Custard Cream into a mug of tea, he almost convinces the audience, too. But very much to its detriment, Misra’s ambitious, overflowing soap opera of a debut is not content with being the character portrait that Byrne’s inherently interesting Donald deserves. It’s not even a particularly colored-in sketch of Amber (promising newcomer Sibylla Deen), the headstrong young Pakistani Muslim woman Donald befriends as she gets trapped between old-country tradition and mean-streets modernity in contemporary Bradford.

Instead the undeniably enthusiastic Indian-born, U.K.-raised Misra has the tourist-like, pent-up voracity of the first-time filmmaker. There’s a slew of racial, gender, and religious issues he needs to snapshot, a handful of headline-grabbing true stories he wants to sample and a grand itinerary of genres he wants to visit, and who knows if he’ll ever get more than these paltry 110 minutes to do it in? Something’s got to give, and unfortunately it’s narrative coherence and character consistency, rather than any of the superfluous subplots, that get the chop. Misra spent a decade working on this project, but the years have clearly been engaged in accretion rather than sculpture, and the resultant script, co-written with Ewen Glass and Andy McDermott, is arthritic with overplotting.

Donald is introduced waiting while his wealthy employer Demi (Harvey Keitel in a role so small he may have shot it on another gig’s lunch break) has one of his regular extramarital assignations. “The only men who get caught,” Demi tells Donald with a rueful clap on the back, “are those who don’t love their wives enough.” Or, apparently, those who don’t have a faithful retainer to cover up for them — by the next scene Demi is dead and Donald is off to strip his shag-pad apartment of any evidence of infidelity. But Demi’s beautiful young lover Amber (Deen), who has not heard of Demi’s death, shows up, puts on a record and some sexy lingerie, before encountering Donald in a hallway.

So far, so film noir: There’s a blue-collar driver, a dead rich guy, and a femme fatale. But the Yorkshire Raymond Chandler vibe soon dissipates. Despite the uncute-ness of their meet cute, the kindly Donald becomes rather unconvincingly embroiled in Amber’s personal life. There’s a lot of it to get embroiled in: Not only was she the clandestine mistress of a married man, she’s an aspiring lawyer who only got her job through Demi’s connections, and her willful nature puts her at odds with her traditionalist parents, developmentally challenged brother, pious younger sister, and the more superstitious element in her Muslim community. And her violent ex-husband KD (the handsome Jan Uddin), whom she was forced to marry when they were both just 16, is now a local gangster, who procures women for his sleazy boss, and has impregnated a trashy local white girl, inevitably called Tracey (Emily Atack). Tracey has it in for Amber, not letting her swelling belly get in the way of giving her a good kicking in a park.

Donald has his own problems, including a recent separation from his wife (Gina McKee, who appears, is menaced and disappears in the space of time it takes you to remember her name), a frosty relationship with Demi’s callow son and heir, even a dead child. Much of this would be fine as backstory whispered into an actor’s ear for motivation, but here every storyline, no matter how unilluminating, gets its expository moment. Donald and his portly brother-in-law Billy (a genial, countrified Mark Addy) pass a whole scene finding, arguing over, then flying, a kite that belonged to “our Amy.” The audience scrambles to work out that Amy is the dead daughter, information which immediately becomes obsolete. It feels tacky, to have this little creature summoned into existence and then snuffed out just so we can read more pain into Byrne’s careworn face, even if she is fictional.

Byrne and Deen are not the only participants committing too much of their talent to material that doesn’t quite warrant it. When the director’s soapier instincts insist on a slow zoom to a lingering closeup, Indian cinematographer Santosh Sivan’s otherwise glossy, polished camerawork seems reluctant to oblige. There’s less resistance to the heightened theatrics from composer Zbigniew Preisner, though. Here the celebrated Kieslowski collaborator is in weirdly obvious form: If music could be a platitude, this would be the “it’s the thought that counts” of scores.

“Lies We Tell” tells quite a few lies, but perhaps its poster is the biggest whopper. In gunmetal blue-grey shades, above block capitals spelling out the unearned tagline “The Truth Can Kill,” a shotgun-toting Gabriel Byrne glares menacingly off-screen. It makes this overstuffed season of daytime TV look like a riff on “Taken” or one of those anonymous Nic Cage revenge thrillers. Worse still, when there’s so much promising material in the culture-clash setting and the mismatched (and gratifyingly platonic) friendship at the core of all this busy-ness, it makes you kind of wish it was one.

Film Review: 'Lies We Tell'

Reviewed online, Berlin, Jan. 31, 2018. Running Time: 110 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Bradford International Film Associates presentation of a Bradford International Film Associates production. (International Sales: Lightning Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Producers: Andy McDermott, Malcolm Scott, Danny Gulliver.

Crew: Director: Mitu Misra. Screenplay: Ewen Glass, Andy McDermott, Misra. Camera (color): Santosh Sivan. Editor: Chris Gill. Music: Zbigniew Preisner.

With: Gabriel Byrne, Sibylla Deen, Mark Addy, Jan Uddin, Emily Atack, Harvey Keitel, Reese Ritche, Danica Johnson, Gina McKee.

More Film

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content