Director: Mitu Misra
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Sibylla Deen, Mark Addy, Harvey Keitel, Gina McKee
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The poster for this lacklustre British thriller features a shotgun-toting Gabriel Byrne with Harvey Keitel looming in the background, deliberately evoking the idea of a Usual Suspects meets Reservoir Dogs mash-up. Unfortunately, to say that the poster is not entirely reflective of the film would be something of an understatement, and not least because Keitel’s only in it for a total of five minutes.
Directed by first-timer Mitu Misra (an Anglo-Indian businessman-turned-filmmaker), Lies We Tell is set on the mean streets of Bradford and centres on Donald (Byrne), a middle-aged divorcee who’s employed as a driver for Yorkshire-based American billionaire, Demi (Keitel). When Demi unexpectedly dies (after about two scenes, and off-screen), Donald is tasked with removing all traces of his boss’ Muslim mistress, Amber (Sibylla Deen), from his luxury apartment, so as to spare his grieving family from embarrassment.
However, when he arrives at the flat, he comes face to face with Amber, who hasn’t been informed of Demi’s death. After a rocky start, Donald comes to feel protective of her, which is just as well, because she’s about to land herself in a world of trouble with suave gangster KD (Jan Uddin), her violent, former-husband-by-arranged-marriage who now has designs on her younger sister, Miriam (Danica Johnson).
Byrne and Deen (formerly of Home & Away) both do a fine job on the Bradford accent and deliver interesting performances, with their relationship staying refreshingly free of the expected romance angle. There’s also strong work from Uddin (who has a neat line in sudden, disconcerting movements) as the villain of the piece, even if he occasionally seems to be in a different film to everyone else.
However, the movie all but ignores the bigger names on its cast list – Keitel’s role amounts to little more than a glorified cameo, while Gina McKee (as Donald’s ex-wife) is on screen for exactly one scene. Mark Addy has better luck as Donald’s brother-in-law, but he serves little purpose in the overall plot, unless a scene featuring him urinating in the kitchen sink is meant to be symbolic.
There’s no doubting that the film’s intentions are good, as the scriptwriters clearly have some strong feelings on the subject of arranged marriage, as illustrated by the film’s most uncomfortable scene, in which a repulsive businessman-slash-gangster chooses a new bride from a line-up in a nightclub.
However, the script is all over the place, meandering from character to character, with very little actually happening from scene to scene. In addition, the script is so vague that it completely ignores basic information, like how everyone relates to each other, leaving the audience struggling to catch up, as if they’d come into the movie halfway through. With so little available information about the characters and a lack of anything resembling actual drama, Lies We Tell struggles to build any momentum, with each of the scenes feeling flat and a resulting lack of tension or drama. Even the title is never adequately explained.
On the plus side, it looks appealing, with crisp, colourful cinematography from Santosh Sivan and some authentic location work. However, it’s rather undermined by an overly sentimental, on-the-nose score from Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, whose orchestral stirrings never quite match what we’re seeing on screen. Overall, Lies We Tell is too woolly and meandering to satisfy as either drama or thriller.