Tribeca Review: An Honest Liar
A thrilling portrait of a truthful man's obsession with deceit.
An Honest Liar is a funny, moving documentary about the life of James Randi ("The Amazing Randi" which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. The film is funny, heartfelt, and pulls off a few effective narrative twists of it's own as it depicts Randi's obsession with debunking frauds who harmfully deceive others, as well as his intriguing personal life.
Randi is a world renowned magician, escape artist, and ultimately a proponent of magic when the magician is honest that they are doing tricks, but a staunch opponent of deception. The film is broken into chapters, most of which chronicle different operations and investigations where he obsessively disproves mentalists and religious healers. No matter what, Randi sticks to a strict moral compass.
Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein make use of lots of archival footage of Randi and his rivals' appearances on TV, mixed in with contemporary interviews and new footage. The editing is swift and playful, with lots of montages showing the hypocrisy of the deceitful performers, and the evolution of Randi's vast career. Throughout the film friends of Randi weigh in on his journey, including magicians Penn and Teller (Tim's Vermeer), Adam Savage (Mythbusters), and Uri Geller, a mentalist and Randi's professional nemesis.
One of the most viscerally effective scenes in the film comes when Randi uses his investigative skills to debunk Evangelical faith healer Peter Popoff. Most footage of his for-profit denunciation of medicine, tricking those in need into thinking he was recieving devine messages.
Randi came out as gay in 2010, and his relationship with his much younger partner, Jose, becomes the focus of the third act of the film. What the filmmakers really get is how this relationship is central to the heart of the film, as it delicately and evocatively shows the ways that Randi and Jose's relationship is the key to his incredible moral compass.
Overall, An Honest Liar is a truly moving character study, an honest, funny and moving look at the life of a deceitful man obsessed with the truth.