As the title implies, the Netflix thriller Dangerous Lies has a lot of twists and turns, but perhaps the most startling thing about it is that it briefly stars Elliott Gould. Gould is an acting legend, familiar from movies like The Long Goodbye and Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series. His recent work — Ruby Sparks, an Ocean’s 8 cameo, a run on Showtime’s drama Ray Donovan — makes it clear that he hasn’t lost his touch, but his performance in Dangerous Lies isn’t an addition to the Gould dramatic canon, so much as a sample of how he might carry off a Sesame Street appearance. His delivery is deliberate and exaggerated, hammering home the fact that his character, Leonard, is a kindly old man who just wants what’s best for his caretaker Katie (Riverdale’s Camila Mendes). As it turns out, however, he isn’t sleepwalking through a Knives Out knock-off; he’s giving this drama-heavy, logic-light movie exactly the kind of performance it needs.
When his character suddenly dies, a lawyer (Jamie Chung) appears at his funeral, saying Leonard made a will just a few days prior, and left his house to Katie. It seems like a stroke of good fortune for Katie and her husband Adam (Jessie T. Usher), who have been struggling with money. But the turn of events is too good to be true. As they discover a trunk full of money in the attic, and a shady real-estate agent (Cam Gigandet) who keeps showing up, badgering them to sell the house to his unnamed client, red flags start going up left and right.
As the protagonist, Katie is the only character whose motives are never in question. Only the characters around her tell dangerous lies, leaving her to untangle them all and find out the truth. There’s an actual detective investigating Leonard’s death, Detective Chesler (Sasha Alexander), but it’s up to Katie to do the legwork based on the vague, leading questions Chesler gives her.
Who is this real-estate agent? Did the lawyer really speak with Leonard before his death? Does Chesler really mean well? Why is Adam so obsessed with keeping the money in the attic? Each time a question gets answered, three more crop up to take its place. Director Michael Scott, working in a moody color palette that often makes the movie look like an extended episode of Riverdale, keeps the surprises coming at a pace that ensures no one will think too hard about the fact that there aren’t really any clues to follow. The pleasure of Dangerous Lies isn’t finding out whodunit, but simply yelling, “What?” at your screen as increasingly unbelievable twists play out.
The pacing has the added effect of making it hard to look away from the film, as so much is revealed so quickly — and has so little grounding in previous parts of the plot — that a poorly timed lapse in attention practically guarantees you’ll miss a vital piece of information. Dangerous Lies doesn’t stack up to Netflix originals like The Irishman or Roma, but it still demands your attention.
The film also has a leg up on its competition in that Scott and cinematographer Ronald Richard make up for its lack of depth by shooting the film as if it were a Hitchcockian mystery. Low angles and well-framed shots ramp up the sense of unease as Katie grows uncertain of even Adam’s motives, heightening the feeling that she’s utterly alone in a huge house that seems to be more of a curse than a blessing.
Dangerous Lies isn’t Oscar bait, but it absolutely delivers what its extremely straightforward title promises. There’s no end to the dangerous lies the characters tell, and they’re all overly dramatic in a way that adds to the film’s pulpy tone. By that metric, Gould’s performance fulfills the exact parameters it needs to. Leonard isn’t long for the world, and what needs to come across before he goes is that he’s kind, and also that there might be somebody else in the house, given that Katie catches him wandering the house at night with a baseball bat. Gould whales on those points — could his eyes be any wider and more earnest? — until Leonard’s unceremonious exit, making it easy to see just why Katie might believe that he would have left her all of his earthly belongings after knowing her for only four months. He’s a cog in a machine that runs on juicy drama rather than subtle performances — which isn’t, as it turns out, a totally bad thing.
Dangerous Lies is streaming on Netflix now.
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