Film Review: ‘Lying and Stealing’

Priceless art objects exit homes of Los Angeles' elite in Matt Aselton's pleasing throwback to glamorous 1960s heist movies.

Matt Aselton
Theo James, Emily Ratajkowski, Fred Melamed, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Evan Handler, John Gatins, Paul Jurewicz, Keith Powell, Joe Bucard.
Release Date:
Jul 12, 2019

Rated R  Running time: 100 MIN.

Official Site: https://www.directv.com/movies/Lying-and-Stealing-d0VKMWFoa1k1eUIzRkJHc2MvZ3pwZz09

“Lying and Stealing” is a heist movie of a sort mostly seen in the 1960s, when movies like “Charade” found ingenious thieves played by glamorous stars preying upon the priceless knickknacks of the super-rich on the Riviera, and so forth. Such enterprises usually involved not just A-list personalities but lavish production values — all the better to realize that fantasy side of a decade that was stuck closer to Playboy Magazine and hotel-lounge luxury than to Free Love. If there was love (or at least sex) in these movies, it was going to be expensive.

But Matt Aselton’s film does not boast anyone so chic — or bankable — as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Nor does it lay on the splashy wish-fulfillment settings, though the movie does cough up a few locations at which a homeowner might credibly own an artwork worth more than most of us earn in a lifetime. Yet even given its budgetary limits and second-tier cast, “Lying and Stealing” manages to be a retro escapist pleasure — one whose cleverness might actually have been muffled by flashier surface assets.

Without them, we can appreciate more fully the confident craftsmanship that marries upscale criminal-romantic intrigue with the intricate deceptions in ’70s caper films like “The Sting.” This lightweight suspense exercise — which debuted exclusively on DirecTV a month before its July 12 limited theatrical release — isn’t going to be remembered so long as either of those predecessors. Still, it’s accomplished enough to merit the comparison.

Theo James (of the “Divergent” and “Underworld” franchises) plays Ivan, a dapper, somewhat aloof Los Angelean introduced at a private book-launch party high in the hills. No one suspects he is uninvited, yet when everyone else is distracted, he makes off with a Jeff Koons-style bunny sculpture, replacing it with a blow-up replica.

Ivan does indeed know his art, but doesn’t steal for the love of it; he steals because his ne’er-do-well father died owing major gambling debts to sleazy Dimitri (Fred Melamed), and Ivan is paying that off. Alas, Dimitri appears to be the kind of creditor who will never settle an account. Thus obligated to continue burgling, Ivan finds himself next assigned to lift a canvas by abstract expressionist Philip Guston, then a piece of highest-end Nazi memorabilia, and so on. Clearly, satisfying Dmitri’s demands is not going to end soon.

Ivan’s comfortable yet furtive, stripped-down life is further complicated by several new factors. First, he’s forced to take in older brother Ray (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a bipolar pill enthusiast whose resourcefulness around institutional rules has just got him ejected from yet another care facility. Second, Ivan has met “a girl,” aspiring actress Elyse (Emily Ratajkowski), with whom he has a lot in common — including resistance to intimacy, larcenous impulses, a penchant for disguise (she is a woman of many wigs), and hog-tying debt. (She’s blacklisted in the industry until she’s paid off something stolen in anger from a grabby-handed producer.) They decide to be professional allies well before they decide to be anything more.

Third, Ivan becomes aware that he’s acquired an FBI tail (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a situation that can only enrage trigger-tempered gangster Dimitri, but which just might also prove useful in getting rid of him. Playing those cards right eventually involves both Ray and Elyse in a climax that, like much of “Lying and Stealing,” is tensely credible yet presented with a certain cool flippancy, and whose little twists are surprising without ever growing too flamboyant.

Screenwriters Aselton and Adam Nagata (who also co-wrote the director’s prior feature a decade ago, labored indie quirkfest “Gigantic”) deftly balance low-key character seriocomedy and thriller elements, honing both to a modest but satisfying degree. Leads James and Ratajkowski are attractive here (espescially as costumed by Natalie O’Brien), all the more so because they’re given leeway to make a case for their roles’ moxie and intelligence before arriving at the stock “You’re hot, I’m hot, so let’s do this thing” juncture. Melamed underplays his way to a rather scary villainy; there are also good if more fleeting support turns.

Presumably, some favors were called in to access the few rich-collector environs utilized here. In any case, production designer David Batchelor Wilson and DP Corey Walter lend the film a handsome, sophisticated look that probably should have been beyond its means — although not one so ostentatiously glossy it obscures its content. The original score by Giova Ostinelli and Sonya Belousova doesn’t go for traditional swagger or retro irony, but rather nervously on-edge electronica that provides a certain wry tension.

Film Review: 'Lying and Stealing'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, July 9, 2019. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 100 MIN.

Production: A Vertical Entertainment release of a Cota Films, 50 Degree Entertainment production, in association with Artina Films, Arts & Sciences, Global Road. Producers: Mohamed Alrafi, Matt Aselton. Michael Costigan, Naomi Despres. Executive producers: Theo James, Christopher Tricario.

Crew: Director: Matt Aselton. Screenplay: Aselton, Adam Nagata. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Corey Walter. Editor: Geoff Hounsell. Music: Giova Ostinelli, Sonya Belousova.

With: Theo James, Emily Ratajkowski, Fred Melamed, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Evan Handler, John Gatins, Paul Jurewicz, Keith Powell, Joe Bucard.

More Film

  • 'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in

    'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in Hospital After Stabbing

    Hugely popular Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam was stabbed while on stage Saturday at a presentation in Zhongshan, Guangdong province in southern China. He is in hospital recovering. The incident happened at the opening of a branch of the Beijing Easyhome building materials company, where Yam was a guest. A man was seen rushing on [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]


    Director Sara Gouveia on ‘Looking At Resilience Through Art’

    DURBAN–The Mapiko dance of Mozambique’s indigenous Makonde people was long used as a tool for social commentary. But during the colonial era it became an act of political resistance, prompting the Portuguese to stamp it out during Mozambique’s 10-year war for independence. Decades later, the art has been revived as a celebration of freedom. For [...]

  • Don Edkins

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content