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.

Mitu Misra
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

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. More Reviews Album Review: Jenny Lewis' 'On the Line' SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' [...]

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Mad Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high-profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a lineup that, as usual, features an eclectic grab-bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April 13 and [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content