Writer/director Shawn Linden’s The Good Lie is a revenge thriller that should work, but it maddeningly wastes a strong, if somewhat simplified core idea on a thoroughly useless framing device that sinks the whole thing. It’s hard to talk about how thoroughly botched this framing device is without spoiling the film, but there’s almost nothing to spoil. It’s something so useless that not only does it feel trucked in from a completely different film, it makes an already marginally okay film feel padded and ineptly put together.
Young adult Cullen Francis (Thomas Dekker) has just lost his mother in a tragic accident. While going through her things after her passing he finds a videotaped message from her taken while he was a baby where she explains he was the result of a horrific rape. Filled with anger and frustration, Cullen sets out to find the man who fathered him and wronged his mother. The man who raised Cullen as his own son (Matt Craven) also conducts his own concurrent investigation. Knowing slightly more than the son he protected for so long, he attempts to stay one step ahead of Cullen to try and keep him from doing anything rash and unforgivable.
This part of the movie is fine, if a bit too in love with clichéd characters and dialogue. Dekker isn’t exactly perfectly suited to play someone who needs to be so sad he can be driven to want to kill, but once the film moves past his initial shock and grieving, he’s fine when it comes to playing a badass out for revenge. Even better and the true MVP of the film is Craven who brings an immeasurable amount of dignity to the production. His fatherly character is the most believable thing about the film, especially once the script starts getting actual criminal thugs involved in the plot and things take a turn for the lesser once again.
But what really tips this movie into the bad category is that framing device. Cullen is out with four of his buddies sitting around telling campfire stories. These stories have absolutely, positively no bearing on anything. Nothing. They are there to make the film seem like a horror movie when it isn’t. There are stories of cannibalism, pregnant nuns, and someone trying to recreate the “dogs playing poker” painting, and one would think this is all relevant stuff. It isn’t. It attempts to tie it all together at the ending, but it completely contradicts and undermines the entire film around it. It’s a soulless cash grab to try and get distribution (which apparently worked to some extent in Canada, anyway) that pisses away any good will there might have been had toward the film. The film itself is a bad lie. Not a good one.