What it's about: Donald [Gabriel Byrne] is a driver whose employer suddenly dies, leaving him a note to handle his personal affairs. When he enters his employer's estate, he finds his young Muslim mistress, Amber [Sibylla Deen] and is quickly enwrapped in a criminal underworld. While Donald tries to keep the affair secret from his employer's family, Amber is tied to a gangster through a forced religious marriage, and these two worlds come together over the existence of a sex tape.
Gabriel Byrne getting in on the older, legitimate dramatic actor doing action films just when Liam Neeson seems to be over it? OK.
So that's not exactly right, though the plot summary and marketing of the film would make you think that -- even the photo I've used for this post is completely misleading. Lies We Tell is more of a cross-cultural drama that ends up as a crime story. So if you see anything about this film and expect a fun old man action ride, I'd rather recommend you watch the terrible The Commuter instead -- at least it'll give you something like what you're looking for.
I really don't understand the world that the film is trying to show. I can see the hook in telling a gangster story from the perspective of a Muslim community. When the film enters that world, however, it does so with the nuance of a Law and Order episode. It is flashy and the air is thick with hookah smoke, the baddies all caricatures of generic Muslim villains. At least there isn't a terrorist angle to the film.
There is a real opportunity lost to tell what makes this community different in place of your usual crime tale. The best it gets is a major plot dealing with a rift between families over Amber and crime lord KD's failed marriage. Even this doesn't actually have any specificity, though. The only true effect of Muslim culture is to add an extra little element of how the community may react to Amber, otherwise actually an upstanding young woman, for her affair and a sultry [though very, very tame by cinematic standards] video.
That video, though, contains a shirtless Harvey Keitel doing something that seems like dancing, so that's something.
The interesting aspect of the cultural divide is how extremely British this film is at times. Obviously, Byrne offers a very mannered performance. There are sweeping shots of the British countryside when characters are hiding out, complete with cobble stones and free-roaming chickens. If you hate the cliche of the setting being like a character, at least the setting is the best character here.
In order to feel anything for Lies We Tell, you have to feel something for the characters and that just doesn't happen, despite so many melodramatic strings [including an extremely saccharine piano score] pulling. Byrne comes out fine, though his stoicism results in knowing nothing about the character. Amber is downright confusing. She's countlessly called and portrayed as a whore while also being a kind-hearted lawyer.
Looking into the production backstory of Lies We Tell is far more interesting than the results of the film. Debut director Mitu Misra is a millionaire businessman who decided that he wanted to direct a film simply because he loved films. He was inspired by Northern British classics like Get Carter and wanted to set one in his hometown of Bradford. He used his business skills to get Gabriel Byrne and Harvey Keitel on board. Considering Misra's complete lack of experience, Lies We Tell is a more interesting film, but it unfortunately isn't a successful one. Reading The Guardian's profile of him, he seems to have much more personality than is on display in his film.