Dangerous Lies

It might be kind of tedious, kind of sloppy, and mostly silly, but you could never accuse “Dangerous Lies” of false advertising. The new Netflix thriller, directed by Michael M. Scott, is practically designed for rainy day viewers who initially laugh at the title, and that’s not a bad thing. Does it waste Elliott Gould in a thankless supporting role? Yes. But does it sincerely engage you enough on some level right until its final farfetched twist? Also yes. 

“Dangerous Lies” stars Camila Mendes as Katie, a straight and narrow, financially struggling caretaker from south Chicago who tends to an older man named Leonard (Elliot Gould) out in the burbs. We know little about him aside from that he’s lonely, rich, old, and has a big beautiful house. When Leonard dies, he leaves the abode and all of his earnings to Katie, despite only having known her for four months. This catches the eye of Detective Chesler (Sasha Alexander), but it makes sense to us: Katie is an unflappably good soul, and she could use the money with her husband. Even when Leonard gave her a small amount of extra financial support before kicking the bucket, her initial reaction was to return the check. 

But then there’s Katie’s husband Adam (Jessie T. Usher), who is worn out by job interviews that lead nowhere, and has stopped going to his grad school classes. It's a tough break for a local hero who four months earlier, in the movie's opening scene, thwarted a robbery at the diner Katie used to work at (more on that later). Adam sees the money as a way to make their bills disappear, but he has that greedy glint in his eye that makes his own larger motives even more suspect, especially when he finds money in Leonard's attic. And while the married couple do soon move into Leonard’s home (one of many silly things the script just embraces), they don't know what secrets are inside. They also have little idea that they’re being watched by a snaky real estate guy played by Cam Gigandet.

The first thing you might notice about “Dangerous Lies” is that it looks strikingly good—starting with swift, neon-tinged introductory shots that take us from outside a south Chicago diner, through the kitchen, and around the tables. It's a frankly exciting proclamation that the viewer is going to be in capable hands, something that’s then continually affirmed with inspired framing and camera movement throughout (from cinematographer Ronald Richard). It’s this kind of effort that makes “Dangerous Lies” stand out as a whole, in spite of its narrative flaws, as it eschews an expected workman flatness for something that’s polished, and feels considered. 

But it’s all a little slow—the lies don’t even start feeling dangerous until around 50 minutes in, and that’s after that thwarted robbery, a death, a literal treasure chest of cash, the surprise inheritance of the house, repeated shots of Gigandet scowling into his rear view mirror, etc. Even the aforementioned diner scene becomes dead weight, feeling like a false start and then a nuisance the more you try to figure out its significance in the scheme of everything. And you’re not sure for the longest time, even with all of the time spent watching Detective Chesler unpack everything, what Katie and Adam should specifically be afraid of. It all makes the big reveal at the start of the third act as welcome as it is goofy—when in doubt, send your character into the shed, like how Katie does when she simply wanders into the one on her new property, and discovers more than just a mousetrap. 

With its many plot elements haphazardly linked and justified by writer David Golden, "Dangerous Lies" at least has an ease to it, where the dialogue seems efficiently designed to help a viewer understand everything that’s happening in any scene without being obnoxious. The clunky course of events also might be less tolerable were they not performed by a cast who is game for the tale's two-sided approach to morality, specifically Mendes and Usher as a married couple who seem surprised by each other's actions. Adam in particular becomes a curious threat, one who is gradually shown to be corrupted and controlling by this life twist that is unsurprisingly too good to be true. Can Katie trust her husband, even though the money has him acting totally weird? It’s one of the small questions that “Dangerous Lies” teases us with, and by the time we get to the climax, it’s almost been worth it just to find out the answer.  

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Dangerous Lies movie poster

Dangerous Lies (2020)

Rated NR

96 minutes

Cast

Camila Mendes as Katie

Jessie T. Usher as Adam

Elliott Gould as Leonard

Cam Gigandet as Ben

Sasha Alexander as Detective Chesler

Jamie Chung as Julia Byron-Kim

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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