Liar

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

What does style, crime, the South and weird camera angles imply? Film noir? Wrong. What? The Brothers Pate.

Superficially, Josh and Jonas resemble the Coens. In fact, they don't at all. They're younger (28), they're twins, they come from Charleston, South Carolina. Their quirky strangeness is different, too, and their humour darker, even than Fargo. Sometimes it's so dark, you can't see it. The body of a prostitute (Renee Zellweger) has been discovered in two separate sites on the edge of the city, cut in half. John Walter Wayland (Tim Roth) is brought to the police station on suspicion. Detectives Braxton (Chris Penn) and Kennesaw (Michael Rooker) conduct a lie detector test in a claustrophobic room with the blinds closed.

Wayland is interesting. He's an alcoholic epileptic, the son of a textile magnate, highly intelligent and unemployed. He drinks absinthe and takes pills for his condition. He is there because his phone number was in the dead girl's pocket. He knew her, he admits. She was a friend. He saw her the night she died, in the park, but didn't kill her.

The film is a psychological thriller in the true sense of the word. The Pates use flashback, like postcards from the pit, exploring aspects of character that contradict and expose. Otherwise the camera stays in the room, circling the men, probing for signs of weakness, as a war of wills goes on.

Being rich, acerbic and interested in human failings, Wayland knows more about the others than they know about him. Kennesaw, the veteran, married to a classy dame (Rosanna Arquette) who cheats on him, allows his feelings for this privileged upper-class rat to overheat. Braxton, the rookie, deep in debt from gambling, with payback time ticking to destruction, tries hard to do the job right, even when things start getting crazy.

The script questions the relevance of truth, the arrogance of the intellect. Machines, such as the polygraph, don't have the wisdom of experience. What is experience, anyway, but a collection of random incidents, adding up to probability? It is probable that Wayland was involved in the murder. It is probable that Kennesaw and Braxton have secrets they would kill to protect. "Everyone lies," Wayland says, implying that there is no truth, only imagination and a need for certainty.

Liar is a better movie than Reservoir Dogs. It digs deeper and has a sharper eye for cinematic expression. The tension mutates into a fatal fascination with violence and the actors crackle off each other like electricity. Only at the end do the Pates lose the plot. In an attempt to play clever - they've been clever all the way, without flaunting it - credibility takes a hammering, when all that's required is an enigmatic fade to uncertainty.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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When a prostitute is found dead and diced, a textile heir finds himself under suspicion of murder.
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Director: Josh Pate, Jonas Pate

Writer: Josh Pate, Jonas Pate

Starring: Chris Penn, Ellen Burstyn, Tim Roth, Renée Zellweger, Michael Rooker, Rosanna Arquette, Don Winston, Michael Parks, Mark Damon, J.C. Quinn, Jody Wilhelm

Year: 1997

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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