Film Review: 'A Familiar Lie'
A wife's suspicions lead to unexpected trouble and murder in this Black crime drama with a touch of comedy and heart.
Camille (Kietta Mayweather Gamble) feels like she doesn't know the man she loves anymore. While her husband Roger (Jon Etiquette) cites work as the reason for his frequent late nights, Camille senses that something else is going on--and is certain her husband is cheating. After confiding in her friends, Camille is convinced to hire private investigator Philando (Walter Franks) to find out the truth. Despite being put off by Philando's odd behavior, Camille hopes hiring him will get her the answers she's looking for.
Unbeknownst to Camille, there's more to her husband's behavior than meets the eye. Having lost his job, Roger has resorted to working with kingpin Mike (Trae Ireland) to keep himself and Camille afloat. But when things go awry, Camille will find herself in a situation she never anticipated. Who will walk away from this web of treachery and murder alive?
When it comes to writer/producer Curtis Elerson's original films, I've reviewed one film of his that didn't work with me (Paper In My Pockets 24/7) and one film that made for a fun watch despite its shortcomings (Hey Mr. Postman). With his latest film release, it can best be described as landing somewhere in between those previously mentioned films. While there are enough problems in it to take it down a few notches, A Familiar Lie has enough to keep it from falling below PIMP 24/7.
In spite of the less-than-impressive CGI used, the intense cold opening starts A Familiar Lie on an explosive note--showing that the movie is going to have more going on than its Amazon synopsis implies. The film might initially sounds like the Lifetime fare I often cover for this blog, but the opening displays clearly that something more dangerous is at play. Since the truth behind Roger's "affair" is revealed fairly early into the movie, the merging of that plotline with Camille's "Suspicious Wife" arc is a natural one that avoids provoking any Mood Whiplash. And while A Familiar Lie has some issues when it comes to story progression, the moments when it gets its pace right allow for genuine tension to brew.
The payoff for all this tension, though, leaves a lot to be desired. With a good handful of scenes that feel needlessly dragged out, there are plenty of moments in A Familiar Lie where your attention might start wandering. There's also the matter of the film's very abrupt ending, which ends the movie on an incomplete note that leaves far too many plot threads hanging. The same problem afflicted PIMP 24/7, though in A Familiar Lie's case, this abrupt conclusion hurts worse due to the compelling story that precedes its letdown of a finale.
Coming in to counteract these problems is A Familiar Lie's characters and cast. For the most part, the performances here are natural and authentic. Even Mike's lengthy rants have a certain appeal to them and don't feel overly scripted, and make him believable as a man with the assertive confidence needed to run a drug enterprise. What's especially appreciated, however, is how shades of nuance are added to A Familiar Lie's primary villain. While Mike is no doubt unstable and dangerous, we're allowed to see a softer side to the ruthless kingpin. It's clear that for all their disagreements, a complicated sort of love exists between Mike and his brother/partner-in-crime Big O, with Trae Ireland and Omar Gooding playing well off of each other to give credibility to this brotherly bond. We're also introduced later in the movie to Mike's teenage daughter Loreena (played by Taylor Mayweather), who provides more concrete evidence that there's more to Mike than violence and greed. A Familiar Lie wisely doesn't try to excuse Mike for his crimes, but the script and Ireland's performance give depth to what could've been a generically evil criminal mastermind.
Other stellar performances can be found in A Familiar Lie. In addition to Gooding's memorable--but surprisingly brief--performance as Big O, there's Walter Franks as the sleazy but impossible not to love Philando. Through his hilarious introduction scene (one example of A Familiar Lie's success at inserting comedy into an otherwise serious story), Franks gives Philando the same oddly appealing charm that he gave to Hey Mr. Postman's Brian Lincoln. Even as he drops his fake Austin Powers-esque accent and begins showing he's not much better than the criminals surrounding him, Franks gives an air of goofiness to even Philando's worst actions. It's enough to make me dub Philando the most memorable and consistently entertaining character of the movie.
But as we go into the lesser half of the cast list, let's start with that list's black sheep: Kietta Mayweather Gamble as main protagonist Camille. A Familiar Lie is credited as Gamble's first movie role, and her lack of experience in the medium definitely shows. All too often, Gamble's delivery is flat and one-note, which becomes painfully obvious during Camille's emotionally charged scenes. Not helping Gamble is the fact that for much of the movie, Camille's plot arc made me drawing parallels to Lifetime's double-standard-brimmed Sinfidelity. Since the movie doesn't allow us to see Roger neglecting Camille because of "work", we're given no evidence to back up Camille's claims of Roger acting differently. Without that, Camille's steadfast claims that she JUST KNOWS her husband is cheating come across as irrational paranoia. SPOILER ALERT And since Gamble can't sell Camille's devastation when Roger is murdered, her apparent love for her husband never rings true--which makes her possible falling in love with Mike during her convoluted revenge mission feel incredibly callous. Spoilers Over
(A Camille-based nitpick: the movie tries to explain that Camille is "handicapped" to explain why she doesn't work and relies on Roger to be the breadwinner of their family. But there's not a single indication--spoken or otherwise--of this handicap, making it feel like an Informed Flaw meant to try and score Camille sympathy points)
Camille's briefly-seen friend group isn't much better for how they encourage her baseless suspicions, but Carlee Corsey's Boscee deserves some credit for at least briefly trying to dissuade Camille (though working against that credit is Boscee's admission to being an adulterer herself). Another part of why Philando makes for such a fun character is that of the film's characters, he's the most vocally against Camille's conclusion-jumping attitude. SPOILER ALERT Plus, Camille's Unintentionally Unsympathetic status makes it morbidly fun to watch Philando blackmail and taunt her--mirroring the dynamic between Angela and Franco in Sinfidelity. Spoilers Over In smaller roles, Jon Etiquette gives a likability to Roger's moderately flat character, while DJ Hustle is effectively shady as Roger's untrustworthy friend "Bullshit". Taylor Mayweather brings an understated sweetness to Loreena, and Veronica Rich joins Franks and Gooding in bringing emotional depth to her initially unsavory character.
A Familiar Lie is a double-edged sword when it comes to being an entertaining watch. While the story and compellingly written villains draw you in, the problematic heroine and inconsistent pace are bound to test your patience. Not to mention how the abrupt ending is almost guaranteed to frustrate any viewer invested in the twisted story A Familiar Lie weaves. Hopefully, a sequel is in the works to resolve that unsatisfying conclusion, but the other flaws are harder to overlook. But with an investing tale to tell and actors who bring their well-written characters to life, A Familiar Lie has enough to salvage itself from the damage of its weak spots. If you can brave through its sluggish bouts and hard-to-like protagonist, this crime drama makes for a decent downtime watch.
Score: 5 out of 10 "Pink" sweaters.