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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: The Good Liar

The Good Liar is a specific kind of movie. It’s the kind of movie for which I have great fondness. Old-fashioned in almost every way… from its distinct design as a two-hander with its two great stars, to its costumes to its sense of London, to the kind of whodunit that it is, which is to say, the kind they used to make in England in black=and-white. Graham Greene, Carol Reed, and little-known names as Arthur Crabtree, who was a cinematographer-turned-director in the 1930s and 1940s. Obviously, the extreme example of success in the genre is Hitchcock.

It was with great pleasure that I sat down to see The Good Liar. Two actors I think the world of, and have watched for over 40 years. A director whose work I consistently admire. And an old-fashioned tale of crosses and double-crosses, as advertised.

And the film delivers. I had great fun, from start to finish, trying to anticipate what was about to happen next and then being taken places that were unexpected. Are a few of the functional devices a little clanky? Absolutely. But I wasn’t judging the movie on that basis. For me, it was more like watching a Mission: Impossible film or episode. I didn’t have to believe that a guy in a rubber mask with a chip to adjust his voice passed without question for another person. I enjoyed the gag.

This is not to say that you need to turn off your brain for The Good Lie. You don’t. You shouldn’t. You just have to watch it in the context in which it operates. And though film experts don’t like to admit it, many of the movies we most love from the historic past have a tone and style that is not like today’s… and we love the movies more for that reason.

Bill Condon is interested in interpreting the past, not just in period, but the past in cinema. Whether it is Gods and Monsters or Chicago (as screenwriter) or Dreamgirls or Beauty and The Beast or or Kinsey or “Side Show,” which he directed on Broadway a couple years ago, all that makes sepia magic seems to be a key to what intrigues him about the world. If he has a signature as a director, it is that.

The third act turn, which comes after a series of other turns, some meant to trick the audience and some just to inform, takes the film from the expected back-and-forth to somewhere else altogether. And I loved that, as the obvious answers are thrown completely out the window. Then your mind starts working backwards.

It’s not Strangers on a Train or North by Northwest. But it’s not meant to be. It’s ambitions are more modest. More old-fashioned. For me, it was an absolutely delightful way to spend an afternoon in the cinema.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon