Saturday, 21 April 2018


When billionaire Demi (Harvey Keitel) drops dead in his private flat in Bradford, his chauffeur Donald (Gabriel Byrne) discovers his final job is to clear the place of any traces of Demi's mistress Amber (Sibylla Deen). But Amber has other problems with her life in the Pakistani community of Bradford, and Donald finds it impossible not to try to protect her from the violence that threatens her. Because there's a video....

When Lies We Tell had its theatrical release, most of the interest lay in finding out how first-time writer/director Mitu Misra and his producer Andy McDermott (who co-wrote the screenplay with Ewen Glass from Misra's story) were able to put together such a cast together for such a stylish-looking debut film. Misra was no recent film graduate; he is a 58 year old self-made millionaire, who sold off his double-glazing company to bankroll his dream of becoming a filmmaker. A certain amount of northern chutzpah and an equal amount of innocent enthusiasm seemed to do the trick, bringing the big names on board, and the story itself may have done a lot of the rest.

Amber is the focus of the film, caught between the world of Pakistani immigrants and the world of white Britain into which she wants to move, to practice law, something which her affair with Demi is financing. But she was married off at 16 to a cousin, KD, who has also made part of that transition, as a local gangster. By going public and accusing her cousin of raping her, Amber won a divorce, but also the suspicion of her community and the smouldering hatred of KD, who now wants to marry Amber's younger sister. Into this world of threat comes Donald, morose and lonely, divorced and living on a run-down farm with Billy, his ex-wife's brother.

Although Lies We Tell doesn't look like a first-time filmmaker's effort, in large part to the exceptionally sensitive cinematography of Santosh Sivan—a leading light in Indian film, and as much a star catch as Keitel or Byrne—his shooting sets the tones of each scene, and because the movie leaps around in tone, the pictures actually accentuate that. Which isn't always totally positive, as there are otherwise has a number of hallmarks of a beginner, not least the urge to cover loads of bases as if to prove the ability to work in all sorts of styles. The script is somewhat repetitive, especially where the younger sister is concerned, with conflicts restated that don't need to be, and the dialogue is often melodramatically one dimensional. The result is that KD, played with great enthusiasm by Jan Uddin, becomes almost a parody of villains we've seen before; similarly the women around Amber's family are classic harpies. But there are other fascinating touches, like KD's abuse of his English girlfriend Tracy, again a take on big-time gangster roles, and a sudden burst of strength from Amber's father (Harish Patel), which comes after one of the film's most realistic scenes, of men's release while betting on cock-fighting.

It's the up and down tone and the hesitation in resolving the film's many story-lines (Demi's son, for example, wants a piece of Amber) which both slow it down and make it frustrating. The Donald-Amber relationship, a riff of sorts on Mona Lisa, only really gains traction when she finally visits the farm, whose Hovis commercial look remind us of the wider context.

Deen, who comes to the role from Neighbours, is a revelation as Amber, and Misra lets her fill the screen. We've seen morose Byrne before, but he does it well, and makes it easier to believe the nature of their relation. Mark Addy is brilliant as his counterbalance, Billy, and there's a nice cameo from Gina McKee as Byrne's ex. But you have to wonder about the twists and turns, the back and forth, the odd longeur. Where did Amber get Donald's number? And why, in one key scene, is KD travelling without his minders? Not many first-timers begin on as grand a scale as Misra, and if it's not a solid success, it has its moments. The key question will be whether Lies We Tell will help him convince the next batch of talent to sign on board.

Lies We Tell is now available on download and on DVD

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