In a way, it’s comforting to know that we can still be astonished and/or amused by lies in an era of fake news and casual misinformation. Now comes Long Island Republican and freshman congressman George Santos, who proves to be completely incapable of being truthful about anything.
It appears that Santos has lied about his education, his Jewish background (including a family flight from the Holocaust), his finances, his relationships with various Pulse nightclub victims, his involvement with several jobs and charities, his marital status, and the fact that his mother passed away during the 9/11 attacks, or at least has been unwilling or unable to verify information about these things (deeply confusing, since she also appears to have died in 2016).
The fact that we can still express our displeasure as a group over such behavior is encouraging, but it is less encouraging that thus far there have only been some very public snickers as punishment. He most certainly wouldn’t be the first politician in America to get away with spreading outrageous, easily debunked lies.
Nonetheless, for the time being, at least, this particular politician is exposed, so it’s worth taking a minute to celebrate—possibly by viewing some movies about compulsive liars who work their lying trade for amusement and profit.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
While Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s book presents a more delighted psychopath, Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley is nevertheless held accountable in Anthony Minghella’s version. He is a man who gets buried by his falsehoods in this situation: Due to a borrowed jacket, he is initially misunderstood for a Princeton graduate and is then offered a free trip to Italy by the shiftless Dickie Greenleaf’s father (Jude Law).
Who could refuse? By his innate ability to lie and his developing fascination with Dickie (whom he simultaneously wants and wants to be), Ripley steadily sinks beneath the weight of his falsehoods, one piling another, until murder appears to be his only option.
Where to Watch: Showtime, Fubo
Richard Nixon, the patron saint of political evaders, has frequently been the subject of fiction films and docudramas, yet he is just as shady in death as he was in life. Ron Howard tries his hand at a different approach by using the 1977 broadcast interviews by David Frost with Nixon (Frank Langella) (Michael Sheen).
Frost was seen as a lightweight, so Nixon and his allies believed they could use him to manipulate the story of the Watergate cover-up and the former president’s departure; nevertheless, Nixon’s desperate need to confess caused him to bury his legacy forever. His haughtiness led him to feel that his cunning would triumph, and his intense need for a confession made everything clear.
Continuing with Nixon for a while, Dick portrays the Watergate era as a teen-pal farce, with Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as best friends who unknowingly become complicit in the break-in. When the two find themselves in the president’s orbit (played to perfection by Dan Hedaya), they initially perceive him as a stern but amiable father figure before gradually realizing that he is not who he seems to be.
Whilst the film suggests that Betsy and Arlene’s meticulous honesty (to the point of excessive naveté) would be more than a match for Nixon’s greed and corruption, it is somewhat of a metaphor for the country’s (sometimes overblown) coming-of-age during the period.
Catch Me if You Can
Here’s the entertaining, high-flying side of obsessive lying: The plot of Steven Spielberg’s movie is based on the somewhat true story of Frank Abagnale, who claimed to have progressed from being a simple confidence trickster to impersonating a Pan Am pilot (as well as a doctor, among other fake professions) and forging payroll checks totaling millions of dollars.
It’s unclear from the story whether the real Abagnale was exaggerating in his memoir. Even though Tom Hanks’ brave FBI agent is after him, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Abagnale is mainly enjoying his rented jet-set lifestyle.
The Great Imposter
The real-life con artist and imposter Ferdinand Waldo Demara is fictionalized by Tony Curtis, as you can see from the movie’s trailer (though, unlike many professional tricksters, Demara seems to have been into lying just for the fun of it).
Curtis performs just a few of those roles with genuine comic vigor, including those of a physician, sheriff’s deputy, assistant jail warden in a prison, psychologist, hospital orderly, lawyer, Benedictine and Trappist monks, cancer researcher, and teacher, among many other professions.
There is a clever twist in the climax that makes it plain that lying for enjoyment is preferable to lying for profit, so this isn’t a movie about getting what’s coming to you.
Where to Watch: The Roku Channel
The Lady Eve
Even though Barbara Stanwyck’s Jean Harrington (also known as Lady Eve Sidwich) starts the film as a confidence trickster working with her card shark father to con Hopsie Pike, played by Henry Fonda, who is an impossible dorky snake expert, it’s pretty difficult to dislike Barbara Stanwyck’s, Jean Harrington.
She even creates a double marriage in the style of a screwball comedy before falling in love with Pike. Should she be locked up? Most likely, but she is remarkably forgiving.
I’m letting two very different Barbara Stanwyck roles stand in for the complete femme fatale film from the golden age. In contrast to The Lady Eve, where she portrayed a much lighter and sillier version of a con woman, here she plays Phyllis Dietrichson, who seduces the purportedly upstanding insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into a scheme to kill her husband for the insurance money—a plot that is far too simple for a film of this caliber.
Even at the conclusion, it is hard to know for sure what was true and what was a deception regarding Dietrichson’s relationship with Neff since she is so skilled at pulling off multiple double-crosses at once.
Where to Watch: Digital rental
What’s Up, Doc
There is a sense in which Judy Maxwell, Barbra Streisand’s iconic neo-screwball heroine, is a compulsive liar, but only in the sense that she is a force for complete pandemonium. She almost interchanges absolute truth (and her in-depth but unusual education) with wild falsehoods to maximize the trickster spirit in each scenario.
She plays the fiancee of Ryan O’Neal’s Howard Bannister in one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, and she is not only completely believable but also far more compelling than the real Eunice (Madeline Kahn), leaving Howard doubting whether he even made the proper romantic decision. Peter Bogdanovich’s film makes the argument that lying may often be much more enjoyable than telling the truth, in contrast to many of these other choices. Use that message however you see fit.
The Usual Suspects
As narrated to U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) by small-time (apparently) criminal ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey, who, along with the movie’s director Bryan Singer, could know something about lying), The Usual Suspects is almost entirely constructed as one large flashback.
The conclusion of the film casts doubt on what we’ve just seen; it’s not apparent if Kint lied compulsively or only to hide his behavior, but it’s obvious that he’s quite skilled at it.
Where to Watch: Showtime, Fubo
In the movie, Hayden Christensen portrays Stephen Glass, a real-life reporter for the New Republic whose career took a dramatic turn when it was discovered that the majority of his stories were either fiction or outright fabrications.
The plot of the film follows Glass’s demise, and Christensen portrays him as someone who is desperately trying to hide his falsehoods by telling more lies in an astonishingly frazzled performance.
Where to Watch: Tubi, Hoopla