Director: Michael M. Scott
Screenplay by: David Golden
When planning to immerse your viewers into the world that you’ve created for them in your screenplay, it can be hard to know how to tell them certain elements that are important to the plot without spelling it out to them or patronising your audience. This is defined as narrative exposition and can make or break a screenplay. Audiences watch films for that very reason – to watch. When reading, more things have to be explained but you can use the film format to show not tell.
Dangerous Lies is a thriller set in America, depicting the plight of a married couple who are left a fortune by one of the wife’s clients. Katie Franklin and Adam Kettner – portrayed by Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher respectively – are struggling to make ends meet, living paycheque to paycheque. Katie is a carer for Leonard Wellesley, portrayed by Elliott Gould as a kindly old man who has a lot of wealth and a lot of generosity. When he passes, it turns out that he left everything he owned to Katie. But there are more secrets and dangerous lies than meet the eye.
And don’t you worry, the writers spell each and every one out to you clear as day.
There are many ways to show your audience something about a character without using dialogue to explain it to them. In the first scene, we see Katie working as a waitress while Adam is studying in the restaurant that she works in. In just the opening scenes, there is a lot of exposition-heavy dialogue hammering into the audience just how poor they are and how much they need help financially. This continues throughout the film and makes the dialogue very clunky throughout as it relies entirely on exposition from most of the characters.
This is where show don’t tell comes into play. Katie working as a waitress while Adam is studying is enough of a sign that they’re not going to be rich. This is supposedly their everyday life so they don’t need to constantly remind each other of the way things are – they’re living it for themselves. If they bring in a new character that they’re telling their plight to then that is different and exposition-laden dialogue can work so long as it isn’t forced. But when using the medium of film, they can show us that they are poor by leaving overdue bills on the counter, showing them with their cards declining or something other than the characters telling us what they’re going through.
A series of events occurs where a burglary takes place in Katie’s workplace and Adam bravely steps in as the hero. However, it means – for some reason that they never explain – that Katie has to go looking for another job. She goes to work for Leonard and on one of her working days, finds that he’s passed away. At the wake, a lawyer approaches the couple and reveals that Leonard left everything to them. So, they immediately move in but are riddled with suspicion as the detective states that not all is as it seems with Leonard’s death.
Dangerous Lies’ main fault is that it thinks it is really clever with the eventually convoluted plot that it has while also treating the audience as if they’re stupid. Throughout the film is the red herring that actually Adam was the one to have planned this all along but he ends up dying a ‘hero’. More on that later. There are too many characters introduced that all play into the same plot that doesn’t really have much to do with the introduced plot in the first place. Wasn’t it enough that Leonard had a trunk full of cash stashed in his attic? Did we really have to introduce that he was unknowingly stashing diamonds, too? So, it turns out that Leonard’s gardener, Ethan was working with the estate agent that has been stalking the couple from the beginning, Mickey who was working with the lawyer, Julia who created the will to cover up/plant blame on the couple. Also, Mr. Calvern – Katie’s carer boss – dies in the middle but has nothing to do with the plot aside from the fact he believes Katie is in the wrong.
Exhausted? Bored with remembering everyone’s names? Wondering how people like Ray Gaskin – the original burglar of the restaurant – even came into play? Same. As always when I’m watching a new film that I know I’m going to review, I make notes to look back on later. But for this, I felt like I had to make notes to remember who everyone was and why they were important. It turns out none of them really were.
While on the subject of meaningless characters, let’s look at our protagonists. I spoke last week about how when a film provides audiences with no real motive to root for the characters, they’re setting themselves up to fail. All we learn about the pair of them throughout the film is that they’re poor, they have no chemistry, they talk in exposition constantly and they are morally dubious at best. Especially Adam. Adam acts as if he is the bad guy all throughout the film, but then is shocked when nobody believes that he isn’t. They never really explain what the dodgy part of the burglary was. I think they ‘kind of forgot about it’ even though it was a catalyst for the whole story. Apparently. Was it?
Dangerous Lies is another film that’s been churned out by Netflix that calls itself a ‘thriller’ but leaves you with no thrills. I found myself bored throughout most of the film and found that I didn’t really care who had or hadn’t ‘dunnit’ as I was sure there was going to be no real consequences for it. And there wasn’t! Despite everything being a setup, Katie still gets to keep the house – and the diamonds, which they make sure the audience remember – despite having no real claim to them. Just because the case was closed doesn’t mean that she’s entitled to the house, right? Someone? Help?
All in all, I would rate this film:
Please let me know in the comments what you think about Dangerous Lies and let me know what film you would like to see an analysis of next. Be sure to follow for more updates.