Review: ‘The Lie’ (2020), starring Joey King, Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

“The Lie”

Directed by Veena Sud

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the suspenseful drama “The Lie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced couple go to extreme lengths to cover up a crime committed by their troubled teenage daughter.

Culture Audience: “The Lie” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in movies that have very Lifetime TV type of concepts but with higher budgets and a higher caliber of actors.

Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

When parents cover up a crime that their child committed, who’s worse? The child or the parents? These are questions that the dramatic thriller “The Lie” wants viewers to think about and possibly change their minds about the answer several times during the course of the movie. Unfortunately, “The Lie” (written and directed by Veena Sud) is so caught up with trying to fool viewers with twists and turns in the story (including an ending that people are going to either love or hate) that the movie could be considered one big lie if viewers are expecting a coherent plot. Above-average acting from the lead actors in the cast can’t quite save this convoluted mess of a movie.

“The Lie” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Amazon Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. “The Lie” definitely has a strong female point of view, since two of the three main characters are female: troubled 15-year-old Kayla (played by Joey King) and her mother Rebecca (played by Mireille Enos), a former homicide cop who’s now a corporate executive for an unnamed company. (Sud and Enos used to work together on the crime drama series “The Killing.”)

The other main character in “The Lie” is Kayla’s rock singer/musician father Jay (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who’s been divorced from Rebecca for about five or six years. Jay and Rebecca have moved on to new love partners. Jay is dating his bandmate Trini (played by Dani Kind), while Rebecca’s boyfriend Greg (Alan Van Sprang) is planning to move in with Rebecca and Kayla. Jay doesn’t know it yet though, and Rebecca wants to postpone telling him this big news.

It’s established early on in the movie that Rebecca has primary custody of Kayla because she’s the more reliable parent with the steadier income. The income disparity is obvious, since Rebecca and Kayla live in a spacious, upper-middle-class home, while Jay lives in a cramped apartment. Jay isn’t a complete deadbeat dad, but there’s tension between Jay and Rebecca because he’s been an irresponsible, inattentive parent in the past (a lot of it has to do with him being a musician), so Rebecca often has a hard time trusting him. She also thinks that Jay can be too lenient with Kayla, maybe out of guilt for being a sometimes-absentee father.

Kayla’s relationship with Jay is less resentful than how Rebecca feels about him, but there’s still some tension between Kayla and Jay because Kayla wishes that her father paid more attention to her. Jay is the type of musician who’s still trying to make it big. He’s not completely broke, but he’s not at a level where he has a comfortably steady income. He’s the lead singer of an indie rock band that releases its own music and doesn’t get played on the radio, but is able to make money by playing nightclubs. Viewers of “The Lie” will get the impression that he’s been at this level for his entire career.

On the fateful winter day that the lives of Kayla, Rebecca and Jay change forever, Jay is driving Kayla to a ballet retreat that she doesn’t really want to go to but is being pressured to attend by Rebecca. There’s a lot of ice and snow outside, and when Kayla sees a teenage friend named Britney (played by Devery Jacobs) standing alone at a bus stop, Kayla asks Jay to pull over so they can talk to Britney, who’s going to the same ballet retreat.

Britney (who sometimes goes by the name Brit) says that she’s taking the bus because her father backed out on his promise to drive her to the retreat, so Kayla asks Jay if they can give Britney a ride to the retreat. Britney mentions that she and her divorced father haven’t been getting along lately, and that’s probably why he bailed out of driving her to the retreat. It’s later revealed in the movie that Britney moved to the area with her father Sam about two or three months ago. Britney’s mother abandoned Britney and Sam years ago.

As Kayla and Britney sit in the back of the car and make small talk, Kayla notices that Britney has a bruise on her chin. When she asks Britney about it, Britney avoids answering the question and jokingly tries to make Kayla feel intrusive by calling Kayla a “stalker.” The drive goes by fairly uneventfully on a deserted road near the woods until Britney and Kayla ask Jay to stop the car so they can go in the woods and relieve themselves. Jay obliges their request, but he’s reluctant because it’s cold outside and he’s wary about the two girls being in an isolated wooded area. Jay doesn’t go with them into the woods, out of respect for their teenage privacy.

After a reasonable period of time has passed, the girls still haven’t come back to the car, so Jay goes into the woods to find out what’s going on. To his horror, he sees Kayla, who looks like she’s in a state of shock, on a small bridge overlooking icy and treacherous water. Britney is nowhere in sight. When Jay frantically asks where Britney is, Kayla says that they were “joking around,” and Britney fell off of the bridge into the water.

A few minutes later, after Jay tries desperately to find Britney in the water, Kayla changes her story and makes a darker confession to Jay: She says that she and Britney actually had an argument, and Kayla deliberately pushed Britney off of the bridge. Kayla and Jay decide to stop looking for Britney, who is presumed to be dead. Kayla, who’s asthmatic, also seems to be having an asthma attack, so Jay decides that they’re going to leave the scene of the crime and pretend that they never saw Britney that day.

Kayla is too distressed to go to the ballet retreat, so Jay also decides that he will just take her back home and they will pretend that she was sick and use that as an excuse for why she didn’t show up for the ballet retreat. Jay also decides that during the time that they were on the road, he and Kayla will lie and say that she was with Jay at his place before he drover her back to the house where Kayla lives with Rebecca.

While Kayla and Jay are near the parked car, a truck passes by, and Kayla and Peter duck down quickly, so they won’t be seen. It’s a possible problem with their fake alibi if anyone in the truck remembers seeing Jay’s car on the road at that specific time. There are other things that happen later in the story that could unravel and expose the lie.

But before that happens, Kayla and a panicked Peter go to Rebecca’s office. Rebecca is furious to see that Kayla is not at the ballet retreat. But Jay pulls Rebecca aside and tells that she needs to go back to her house. He will bring Kayla there and explain everything. When Rebecca hears what happened, she is shocked, but she has a very different idea on how they should handle the situation.

Rebecca wants to go immediately to the police and report what happened, as well as try to see if a search team can look for Britney. Peter insists that it’s a bad idea because Britney is probably dead already, and he will get in trouble for not going to the police sooner. It’s also why Jay rejects Rebecca’s suggestion that they tell police that it was an accident: If it were an accident, Jay would’ve called 911 for help in trying to rescue Britney from the water.

Jay thinks the best thing to do is to stick to the lie and get a good lawyer for Kayla. After much arguing back and forth, Rebecca agrees to Peter’s idea to tell the lie to cover up for Kayla. They agree to craft an airtight alibi for Kayla and stick to the story no matter what.

And what does Kayla think about what’s going on? At first, she seems to feel guilty about what happened and wants to go to the police. But then, when she sees that her parents have joined forces to protect her, she seems to find comfort in that situation, and Kayla lets her parents handle everything. They coach Kayla on what to say when the police inevitably start questioning Kayla, who seems to be one of Britney’s closest friends.

But the morning after the incident, Kayla is oddly calm and acts like nothing really happened. She exhibits this nonchalant behavior several times throughout the movie. But then other times, she loses control of her emotions, such as she when she has a public meltdown outside the house and her father has to restrain her.

Kayla’s meltdown in the front yard is loud enough for neighbors to see and hear, but there are conveniently no neighbors who report suspicious activity coming from Kayla’s home. And the police certainly don’t find out about it, because the meltdown is written in this movie for melodrama purposes only.

Later in the story, Kayla reveals to her father Jay that she’s been cutting herself. “It helps take away the pain,” Kayla tells Jay, as she shows him the cutting scars on her wrist. “No one likes me at school,” she adds.

Jay seems disturbed by finding out that Kayla is a cutter. And he’s in for more of a shock when he finds out that Kayla has been cutting herself for a few years, and Rebecca has know about it too. Rebecca gives Jay a weary excuse that she tried to get Kayla help for this self-harm problem, but nothing worked.

If it isn’t obvious enough, Kayla is deeply troubled. But is she a sociopath? Is she bipolar? The movie plays guessing games with viewers over what Kayla’s state of mind really is. Her parents know that something is very wrong with her, but they’re more concerned with covering up the crime she confessed to rather than trying to get her professional help for her mental problems.

Britney’s father Sam (played by Cas Anvar) eventually comes over to Rebecca’s house to see if he can talk to Kayla about where she thinks Britney might be. It isn’t the first time that Britney has disappeared for a few days without telling anyone, so Sam isn’t too worried when he first goes over to the house to talk to Kayla. Rebecca stalls Sam, with the excuse that Kayla has been sick. Rebecca plays the part of a concerned parent by giving Sam her personal cell phone number so that he can contact Rebecca, but it’s really Rebecca’s way of finding out what Sam is going to do about Britney’s disappearance.

Rebecca and Jay do everything possible to prevent Kayla from talking to Sam and other people, by lying and saying that Kayla is too sick to talk to anyone. Rebecca and Kayla also avoid returning Sam’s messages. As Britney’s disappearance stretches into more than 48 hours, Sam gets more frantic and suspicious that Kayla and her parents might be hiding something.

Rebecca and Jay end up doing some despicable and extreme things to throw any suspicion off of Kayla and possibly put the blame on someone else. Rebecca gets in touch with Detective Kenji Takada (played by Patti Kim), a former colleague at the police department, and manipulates her into thinking that someone else could be involved with Britney’s disappearance. Kenji just happens to be part of the investigation with her cop partner Detective Rodney Barnes (played by Nicholas Lea), who shows more than a hint of racism when he suspiciously asks Britney’s father Sam (who’s Pakistani American) what his ethnicity is.

One of the big flaws in the screenplay is in all the illogical decisions made by Rebecca and Jay. By keeping Kayla isolated at home and preventing her from continuing her routine school activities, it actually makes Kayla look even more guilty and suspicious. At one point, Jay and Rebecca tell Sam that Kayla is at a doctor’s appointment, but since that’s a lie, there are no medical records to back it up in case Sam tells the police this information. And Jay and Rebecca’s attempts to prevent Sam from talking to Kayla just makes it look like Kayla has something to hide. Sam senses it too.

And about that lawyer that Jay said should be hired to help Kayla. It’s one of the reasons why Rebecca agreed to go along with Jay’s idea to cover up for Kayla. However, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lawyer is never hired for Kayla, although Jay and Rebecca are going to need attorneys, based on all the illegal things that Rebecca and Jay do to cover up for Kayla and all of their lies. The non-existent lawyer is one of many ways that “The Lie” dangles something in front of viewers and then just leaves it hanging.

And the ending of the movie is basically undermined by the fact that earlier in the film, the police investigating Britney’s disappearance found some important email between two people involved in the case. In order for the ending of the movie to be plausible, viewers would have to believe that the police overlooked other email and cell phone records from the same two people. And that investigator oversight doesn’t seem logical or plausible, considering the email between those two people that was already discovered by the police. Even if text and email messages are deleted, they can still be retrieved on hard drives through computer forensics that are available to police investigators.

Although the screenplay is problematic, “The Lie” does have very good acting from King, Enos and Sarsgaard, who do the best they can with the flawed script that they’ve been given. There are plenty of suspenseful moments, but too often they are followed by another ludicrous and extreme act by one of the loathsome main characters.

And what makes the cover-up worse in this story is that Rebecca is a former cop who makes some dumb decisions that no self-respecting person with police training would make. Main characters in a suspense thriller don’t have to be likable heroes, but they should at least be believable. And because the movie has too many characters who do too many incredibly stupid things, “The Lie” lacks credibility as a suspense thriller.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “The Lie” on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Human Capital,’ starring Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Maya Hawke, Alex Wolff and Fred Hechinger

March 25, 2020

by Carla Hay

Liev Schreiber in “Human Capital” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Human Capital”

Directed by Marc Meyers

Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York, the dramatic film “Human Capital” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and the upper-class.

Culture Clash: A hit-and-run car accident and financial pressures affect the lives of two families from different socioeconomic classes.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal primarily to people who like suspenseful dramas and who won’t mind that the story is told in a non-chronological manner.

Alex Wolff and Maya Hawke in “Human Capital” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The tightly wound dramatic film “Human Capital” shows what happens when desperate people do desperate things and how they deal with the ethical dilemmas they face in the process. Based on Stephen Amidon’s 2004 novel “Human Capital” (which was adapted into the 2014 Italian film “Il Capitale Umano”), this American movie version begins with the incident that is at the center of the turmoil in the movie, which takes place in an unnamed suburb in upstate New York.

While riding his bicycle home from work one night, a restaurant waiter is suddenly stuck by a speeding Jeep Wrangler in a hit-and-run-accident. The Jeep Wrangler briefly stops and the unseen driver does not get out of the car before speeding off. Observant viewers can immediately notice some clues (including the make and model of the car), but even then it’s best not to assume that these clues are proof of who the perpetrator really is.

The mystery unfolds in layers, as the three acts in the story are each told from the perspective of three of the main characters: financially desperate real-estate broker Drew Hagel (played by Liev Schreiber), rich housewife Carrie Manning (played by Marisa Tomei) and high-school student Shannon Dark (played by Maya Hakwe), who is Drew’s daughter from his first marriage. (Shannon took her mother’s maiden name after her parents got divorced.) All of them are or will be connected to the hit-and-run accident in some way.

Drew’s perspective is told first. He’s first seen on screen with Shannon, as he drives her to the home of her new boyfriend Jamie Manning (played by Fred Hechinger), who is the son of a wealthy hedge-fund mogul named Quint Manning (played by Peter Sarsgaard). While Drew marvels at the Manning family’s large estate, Shannon acts like she’s not impressed by the family’s wealth and she looks like she just hopes that her father doesn’t embarrass her when he drops her off at the home.

Drew first meets Quint’s wife Carrie. In the space of a few minutes, Drew tells Carrie that he owns his own real-estate company, he and his first wife (Shannon’s mother) did not have friendly divorce, and he’s now married to a woman whom Drew calls “his trophy wife.” These are indications that Drew wants to give the impression that he’s a rich and successful businessman.

As Drew is getting ready to leave, he meets Quint, when Quint asks Drew to join him in a game of doubles tennis on the mansion’s tennis court. After the game, Drew asks Quint if he’s taking any more investors in his hedge fund WNV. Quint tells Drew that the only new investors he’ll accept are family and friends. But since they’ve gotten along so well in their short time together, Quint tells Drew that the minimum investment is $300,000.

Drew can get the money, but only through borrowing via home equity at a fairly high interest rate. Drew discusses the matter with his business manager Andy (played by James Waterston), who advises him against the deal. It’s a risky move because Drew’s real-estate business (he’s the only employee) hasn’t been doing well, but he’s too embarrassed to admit his financial problems to anyone other than Andy. Drew seems determined to impress Quint, with the hopes of making a profit from the investment, so Drew ignores Andy’s advice and goes through with the investment deal by doing something illegal.

Drew doesn’t tell his current wife Ronnie (played by Betty Gabriel) about this deal. But she’s got news for him: After having multiple miscarriages in the past, she’s now pregnant with twins. Ronnie is a therapist, but her salary wouldn’t be enough to cover the financial losses if Drew’s investment turns out to be a bad decision. Needless to say, the impending birth of the children puts even more financial pressure on Drew.

Meanwhile, the movie’s second act focuses on the perspective of Quint’s wife Carrie. Viewers find out that she’s interested in buying a run-down performing-arts theater in the area and turning it into a cultural center for movie screenings, stage performances and other events. But first, she needs her husband Quint’s money, and she convinces him to buy the theater for their nonprofit foundation.

One of the people on the foundation board is a professor (played by Paul Sparks), who recognizes Carrie as a former actress who used to do horror movies. When he’s alone with Carrie, he flirts with her and confesses that he’s a fan of her work. He also mentions that if the theater needs an artistic director, he’d like to be considered for the position.

During a lunch appointment with him, Carrie confesses that her marriage has had some problems, including Quint having “three affairs in 20 years.” When the professor asks Carrie if she’s ever cheated on Quint, her response is that she’s thought about it many times, but never actually did it. When Quint finds out about the lunch, he tells Carrie about a decision he made about the theater. You can see where this is headed, so it comes no surprise at what happens next.

The third and final act of the story is told from Shannon’s perspective. Viewers find out that she’s a lot more angst-ridden than she first appeared in the other parts of the story. She’s desperate for love and attention outside of her family, but hides that desperation behind a façade of appearing emotionally distant and insolent. While visiting her stepmother Ronnie at Ronnie’s job, Shannon is in the waiting area and meets another teenager named Ian, who is one Ronnie’s patients. They exchange some sarcastic banter, but it’s obvious that they’re attracted to one another.

There’s too much spoiler information to talk about what happens during other parts of the movie, but it’s enough to say that there are several flashbacks that revolve around what happened the night of a gala event where Jamie’s elite private school gave a prestigious award to one of its students. Seated at the same table at the event were Quint, Carrie, Jamie, Quint’s obnoxious lawyer Godeep (played by Aasif Mandvi), Godeep’s wife (played by Christiane Seidel), Shannon, Ronnie and Drew.

The American version of “Human Capital” (directed by  Marc Meyers) is not as stylishly filmed as director Paolo Virzì’s Italian version. While the Italian version had a sleek, minimalistic look to its production design and cinematography, the American version opts for a grittier, more cluttered look. The American version of the movie is a straightforward mystery thriller, while the Italian version seemed to have more to say about the dark sides of ambitious social climbing.

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Oren Moverman (2009’s “The Messenger”) does a capable job with the American version of the “Human Capital” screenplay, which certainly ramps up the “whodunit” tension throughout the film. However, the film’s middle section that’s shown from Carrie’s perspective really doesn’t add much to the story, compared to the beginning and ending to the film.

One character in particular has a backstory that is mentioned but never seen in the movie. It would have been interesting to explore more of this person’s history. However, enough of this person’s background is revealed to explain why this person does an extreme act toward the end of the film. All of the actors do a very good job with their roles, but Hawke’s Shannon character is probably the hardest one to pull off because her character is the least predictable.

For people who want to know who committed the hit-and-run, the movie does end up showing the entire set of circumstances that led up to the hit-and-run, who was responsible, and what happened afterward. However, the American version of “Human Capital” doesn’t fully address some of the illegal acts that certain characters committed in the movie that might or might nor be related to the hit-and-run crime. In other words, some loose ends are tied up, but not all.

Vertical Entertainment released “Human Capital” on DirecTV on February 20, 2020, and on VOD on March 20, 2020.