The Lie” is — well, I’m not gonna lie — not very good.
Maybe that’s why the 2018 film sat on the shelf until this month.
Now available on Prime Video, “The Lie” (rated R, 97 minutes) asks: How far would you go to protect your child?
It’s not the first time a film has asked this question. Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson played the parents of a teen boy accused of murdering his girlfriend in “Before and After” (1996), and their characters had to struggle with how to keep him out of harm’s (and the law’s) way.
Now, in “The Lie,” Peter Saarsgard and Mirielle Enos star as a divorced couple, musician Jay and corporate lawyer Rebecca, who suspect their bratty 15-year-old daughter, Kayla (Joey King), of tossing her best friend off a bridge to her death — while the teens were on their way to dance camp!
While Jay and Rebecca flip out over the prospect, and do all they can to shield Kayla from the law, the teen often appears oblivious to the situation. “What is there to eat?” she asks. Later, she’s seen comfy on the sofa, giggling while watching cartoons. She has moments when she gets teary-eyed and afraid, but her concern seems more for herself and not really for what she’s done.
Many teens, of course, go through phases during which they are, shall we say, a challenge to their parents. During these times a parent might be observed to look heavenward and ask, “What happened to our sweet child?” Usually murder isn’t part of the equation in this scenario, however.
“The Lie,” in fact, could be viewed as a dark satire about those difficult teen years. But that’s clearly not the intention (given that it isn’t at all funny). Written and directed by Veena Sud (“The Salton Sea”), this is a thriller, the kind in which characters keep making dumb mistakes to make matters increasingly worse — and the moviegoer increasingly annoyed. There’s a nice twist at the end, but its effect is muted because the far-fetched proceedings have torpedoed the film’s credibility by then.
Saarsgard, who can be great (see “Shattered Glass”), does his best under the circumstances, but his good work only makes the weakness of the material that much more glaring. Enos, who overacts throughout, fits right in. ** (out of four)
Insomniac’s double feature
Sometimes you can be channel-surfing and come to a screeching halt.
That’s what happened to me during one of my sleepless nights, and I wound up watching a terrific double-feature on one of the HBO channels. I’d seen both movies before, but I couldn’t resist watching them again. And I’m glad I did.
“The Descendants” (2011, R, 115 minutes). At the end of last year, it was time not only to come up with my top 10 movies for 2019 (Sam Mendes’ “1917” topped the list), but my favorite films of the past decade. “The Descendants” ranked No. 1 for the decade.
Directed by Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and set in Hawaii, it stars George Clooney as a lawyer going through a tough time. Not only is his wife on life support after a boating accident, but he’s just learned that she was cheating on him with a local real-estate agent. While struggling with anger and heartbreak, he must assume sole parental duties for his two daughters — a rebellious teen (Shailene Woodley in a star-making performance) and a playful pre-adolescent (Amara Miller).
Funny and sad, the film rings true to life as it shows a family coming together in a time of tragedy. Clooney, as the flustered dad, has never been more likable, and Woodley is just as appealing as the daughter who challenges and supports him.
I love this film, and if you’ve seen it once, it’s definitely worth a second, or third, look. It doesn’t get old. ****
“In Bruges” (2008, R, 107 minutes). I might have at least tried to sleep after “The Descendants,” but who could snooze when “In Bruges” was up next?
Irish hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are sent by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to the medieval Belgian city of Bruges to hide out after an assignment gone awry. Ken embraces the opportunity for sightseeing. Ray hates Bruges and complains the whole time. The two make a funny pair, despite the fact that they are killers for hire.
Acclaimed British playwright Martin McDonagh made his feature-film debut as writer-director of “In Bruges” and has since gone on to make “Seven Psychopaths” and the outstanding “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” His older brother, John Michael McDonagh, has made two first-rate films with actor Gleeson: “The Guard” and “Calvary.” Both brothers deliver an offbeat blend of wit and violence in their work, and that’s certainly true of “In Bruges.” There’s also some substance here, as “In Bruges” deals with guilt, remorse, forgiveness, friendship, loyalty and individual codes of conduct. Meanwhile, Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes are exceptional. ***½
Worth seeking out
“The Ascent” (1977, not rated, 111 minutes, saw on TCM as part of Women Make Film series, also available on the Criterion Channel). You almost feel like you’re going to get frostbite watching this unflinching World War II Soviet drama set in frigid, German-occupied Belarus. Larisa Shepitko directed the stunning black-and-white film, which focuses on two Soviet partisans who, captured, face torture and possible death while under interrogation. Shepitko, who died at age 41 two years later in a car crash, delivers an unforgettably raw look at the choices soldiers — and others — must make in war. Her film asks: At what point is survival not the best option? ****
Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and music producer Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and womr.org. (You read that right: midnight to 3 a.m. Remember, sleep is overrated.) Those who aren’t night owls will find archived recordings of the shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic.