An Honest Liar
One of the most fascinating documentaries to come out in years, "An Honest Liar" is a surprisingly layered look at the damage and necessity of lying. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2014 AFI Film Festival, the film documents the career of James "The Amazing" Randi, who was one of the most famous escape artists since Harry Houdini. He was also gay -- although this fact wasn't revealed until 2010, when he was in his early eighties. Regardless, Randi is a charming, spirited, and wholly original man with quite a story to tell. And while most of the film concerns his personal quest to keep people in his industry honest, his story takes a heartbreaking turn that will hit home for gay audiences.
That said, the captivating part of The Amazing Randi's life wasn't just his ability to wow audiences with his daring escapes. It was what he became during and after his career that is the most interesting and honorable part of his life. You see, Randi admits that all magicians are liars and con-artists. That's their game and, if they are upfront about it, it's all good. But what really gets his goat is the "magicians" that purport to have special powers and other-worldly abilities. From folks like spoon-bender Uri Geller to store-front psychics to faith healers, Randi wanted to expose them all -- not to prove he was smarter or better than them, but because he felt he had the duty to stop them from taking advantage of unsuspecting and easily influenced citizens.
The film really gets jaw-dropping when Randi sets out to debunk people like faith-healer Peter Popoff, a Christian minister that was popular in the '80s. He also ingeniously debunks Uri Geller who, to this day, insists his "powers" are real. Audiences will literally sit in their seats in awe as Randi concocts fairly easy traps that ensnare these charlatans and expose them for what they are.
But there was a lie that Randi kept telling the world as well, and that's where his demonizing of deception comes back to haunt him. It begs the question: When is it okay to lie and deceive? And if one man made it his life's work to make an honest liar out of the illusionists of the world, what does it say about him if he also deceived the world?
The pleasures of this film are better left to the experience. Directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein have created an amusingly fast-paced portrait that utilizes a plethora of stock footage that makes the film that much more enthralling. The best part is when they mix a secret recording with actual television footage of a Tent Revival type event. It's a brilliant sequence and should make everyone look at the "unbelievable" with a little more skepticism.