What lengths would you go to escape the cycle of financial stagnation? This is the underlying conceit of Michael Scott’s “Dangerous Lies,” a Netflix release that restores Hollywood’s classic “domestic noir” genre for a Millennial audience. In the case of newlywed couple Katie and Adam Franklin (Camila Mendes and Jessie T. Usher in terrific form), it means straddling the line between grand larceny and entitled inheritance. With refreshing emphasis on heavy, intricate plotting and its subtle commentary on implicit generational bias, the streaming giant has a water cooler thriller on its hands to last the quarantine.
Katie’s world almost rips in half when Adam intervenes during a robbery-turned-homicide at the diner where she waitresses. Though Adam proves a good Samaritan by stopping the perpetrator, both the authorities and Katie fail to his view his actions as genuinely heroic. Katie sees an unemployed husband driven by reckless bravado, who doesn’t worry about the plight of student loans and unpaid bills hanging over their heads. More importantly, as a young black man in America, it’s no surprise that Adam’s good deed doesn’t go without suspicion by law enforcement down the road.
Cut to four months later and Adam is still waiting for a corporation to swoop up his talents. Katie herself can’t offset the couple’s income burden despite her new job as caretaker of a congenial elderly man with a massive fortune. Even after a short time, Katie’s working relationship with the native Chicago recluse, Leonard (Elliott Gould), blossoms into a caring friendship. Leonard, whose lavish mansion is ripe for the real estate market, eases Katie’s troubles by inflating her monthly stipend check to $7,000. This comes as a massive shock to Katie, especially since the only favor she accepts from her charitable employer is part-time yard work for Adam. After spousal pressure wins out, Katie cashes the check but does so at the most inopportune time. Seemingly natural tragedy befalls her boss, which inadvertently opens the door for the Franklins to inherit Leonard’s assets and wealth.
Though many will view David Golden’s script as a diluted version of Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” “Dangerous Games” uses misdirection in order to highlight social inequality. Admittedly, the narratives share a similar grand manor setting and sweet caretaker-employer bond with major transfer-of-property ramifications. In addition, there’s an overzealous detective with a surplus of deduced assumptions (in this instance, Sasha Alexander playing the Daniel Craig role). Resemblances aside, the suspect players come from outside the house, not within. This makes the twisted mystery an open invite for modern era “Clue” participants: a hardened lawyer (Jamie Chung), a slimy real estate agent (Cam Gigandet), and indignant third party interlopers. With so many shifty characters to contend with, the Franklins are caught between doing the right thing and their own self-preservation.
When outside forces begin to plant seeds of doubt in Katie’s mind regarding Adam’s intentions, fractured trust soon spirals into a fight for survival. Those who work in the legal system stoke the flames of racial profiling even though no words regarding Adam’s race are ever mentioned. That Katie believes their blatant stereotyping sans evidence instead of valuing years of established trust only speaks to the depths of society’s internalized prejudice.
Adam never pretends to be flawless, as Jessie T. Usher does a credible job selling Adam’s criminal-minded jadedness of the “American Dream.” Adam is understandably frustrated with a system that never rewards his hardworking efforts, but instead casts him down to a lowly position of always proving his worth. Even with all the twists and curve balls — some of which are easy spots by process of elimination — Scott’s adept direction ensures his two leads remain their characters’ authentic selves even when perilously close to moral bankruptcy. “Dangerous Lies” furthermore grounds the young couple in realistic contemporary crisis. Millennials are a generation unable to comprehend the idea of owning property, and therefore leave themselves vulnerable to past generation manipulation. When it comes to everyday horror, there’s nothing scarier than tackling adult life without a clear sense of direction.