Lying and Stealing (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A predictable but enjoyable heist flick

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“Lying and Stealing” is a predictable but enjoyable heist flick which has some good elements to cherish. Although it does not break any new ground in its genre territory, the movie did a fairly good job of handling its story and characters well along with enough sense of fun and excitement, and we gladly go along with that even though we can clearly see where its story and characters are heading right from the beginning.

Like many other heist flicks, the movie opens with its criminal hero’s latest job. While disguising himself as one of the guests at a party being held in a slick modern house located somewhere in LA, Ivan Warding (Theo James) waits for the right moment to steal a certain famous (and precious) artwork by Jeff Koons, and we soon see how this young thief works. In a simple but clever way, he swiftly accomplishes his mission despite one minor setback in the last minute, and then he promptly reports his success to his boss Dimitri Maropakis (Fred Melamed), for whom he has worked for years due to his father’s debt.

Because he thinks he has done almost enough for paying back all of his father’s debt, Ivan subsequently expresses his wish to quit to Dimitri, and, of course, Dimitri is not so pleased to hear that. He promises to Ivan that Ivan can quit after doing two more jobs for him, but his seemingly melliferous words are not so trustworthy to say the least. Ivan has no choice to accept that condition, as he does not want to provoke Dimitri at any chance, who can be quite ruthless if necessary.

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Anyway, Ivan’s next job is stealing a painting by Philip Guston, which is in the residence of a sleazy Italian movie producer. Again, he effortlessly sneaks into the residence while a party is being held there, but then he comes across a young actress named Elyse Tibaldi (Emily Ratajkowski), whom he incidentally met at the site of his previous heist. As they spend some time with each other, they are gradually attracted to each other, but Ivan keeps focusing on that job nonetheless, and, again, he succeeds without being noticed by anyone.

In the meantime, we see how Ivan’s private life is disrupted by his older brother Ray (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who has been in a mental institution for his bipolar disorder but gets himself evicted due to his naughty criminal behaviors. Although Ivan prefers to live alone, he cares about Ray’s welfare nonetheless as his only close family member, so he comes to let Ray stay in his apartment for a while even though he knows well that Ray is not someone easy to live for many reasons besides his mental illness.

And then there comes another trouble for Ivan. His two latest heist jobs happen to draw the attention of a federal agent named Lyman Wilkers (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and it does not take much time for him to track down Ivan. Although there is no direct evidence to incriminate Ivan, Wilkers deliberately approaches to Ivan at one point, and Ivan is certainly alarmed although he manages to keep himself calm on the surface.

Meanwhile, Dimitri orders Ivan to do what is supposed to be the last job. There is some rich guy who has collected a bunch of rare items associated with Nazi Germany, and one of them is the self-portrait by a certain infamous figure. Although the job in question turns out to be pretty simple, Ivan subsequently finds himself pressured by both Dimitri and Wilkers, and he must be very careful for his survival and freedom.

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Smoothly rolling the plot toward the expected finale, the screenplay by director Matt Aselton, who previously debuted with “Gigantic” (2008), and his co-writer Adam Nagata continues to provide several nice moments to be appreciated. For instance, I enjoyed how Elyse, whose acting career has been going nowhere since her very unpleasant incident with a powerful movie producer, comes to get herself more involved with Ivan (Is this a spoiler?), and I also liked a small twist involved with Dimitri’s henchmen.

As the center of the film, Theo James, who has been mainly known for “Divergent” (2014) and its forgettable sequels, is well-cast while being slick and likable as required, and he is surrounded by a number of colorful performers. While Fred Melamed, a dependable character actor who has seldom disappointed me since I noticed him for the first time via his hilarious supporting turn in the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” (2009), is clearly having a fun with his shady character, Emily Ratajkowski has a nice chemistry with James during their several key scenes in the film, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach is equally solid as Ivan’s problematic older brother. In case of Isiah Whitlock Jr., who drew my attention for the first time via his wily supporting turn in acclaimed TV series “The Wire”, he surely adds extra entertainment to the movie whenever he appears, and I must confess that I often expected him to utter that amusing catch phrase of his from “The Wire”.

On the whole, “Lying and Stealing” is mildly entertaining while safely saying inside its genre boundaries, but I recommend it anyway because of its efficient storytelling and engaging performance. Sure, it is indeed predictable to the core as also being reminiscent of other countless heist films out there, but it is equipped with considerable personality at least, and you will probably have a good time with it as long as you do not expect too much.

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