True Lies (1994)
Directed by: James Cameron
Premise: Superspy Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) must balance his work chasing terrorists with his responsibilities as a father and a husband.
What Works: True Lies is a great example of taking genre and flipping it on its head with a new twist. The construction of this story is very impressive. The film starts off with a bang by showing Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) in action mode, fighting terrorists and pursuing villains but then it transitions into a domestic storyline of Harry’s troubled marriage and his delinquent daughter. This transition is done very effectively and True Lies manages to focus on the family storyline while inserting just enough exposition of the terrorism storyline to keep it in the background. In the third act, True Lies manages to insert the narrow, domestic storyline into the broader, international storyline in a quick transition that works and allows the best elements of both parts to play out. The film also manages to be very funny, in part because of two smaller supporting roles: Tom Arnold essentially playing his own public persona as Harry’s sidekick and Bill Paxton as a slimy used car salesman trying to get to Helen, Harry’s wife. The role of Helen is played by Jamie Lee Curtis and she brings a lot to what would otherwise be a flat role. She contributes a lot of humor to the film but also carries the weight of the domestic storyline and her changing relationship with her husband gives the film its emotional arc. Aside from the solid foundation that True Lies roots in its story, the film also has some terrific action sequences that are on par with anything in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography.
What Doesn’t: The villains of the film are underwritten, both the scheming arts dealer played by Tia Carrere and an Arabic terrorist played by Art Malik. Neither role is particularly deep although Carrere’s role is a little more interesting. Stronger villains might have made for a deeper film but in this case they might distract from the family storyline.
Bottom Line: True Lies is a terrific film that puts a new spin on the spy genre and manages to deliver the kind of cross over entertainment that James Cameron does so well.
Episode: #215 (November 23, 2008)