Review by Sean Boelman
Don’t let the title and religious-inspired premise fool you — Scott Brignac’s con movie Playing God is certainly not a Christian B-movie a la PureFlix. Even though its attempts at humor consistently come up short, this manages to be a very effective watch thanks to a surprisingly strong emotional core.
The film follows a pair of con artist siblings who team up with their mentor to trick a wealthy mark into thinking that he has met God. It’s a unique premise that offers plenty of potential to be really funny in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. However, perhaps wisely, Brignac opts to emphasize the family drama elements.
Unlike a lot of heist movies, this isn’t a sleek and fast-paced style piece. Instead, the movie takes its time, exploring how the characters react to the obstacles that come their way on an intimate level. The film cares less about the planning and execution of the heist, and more about the human impact it has, which is a refreshing spin on the genre.
Admittedly, the movie is a bit heavy-handed with its themes, and Brignac bites off more than he can chew. The stuff about the ethics of the con is very obvious, and the stuff about grief only slightly less so. Yet even deeper, there is another thread that, while somewhat predictable in terms of plot beats, is unexpected in how hard it hits.
The film does a really good job of investing us in the dynamic between the brother and sister con artists. Although the arc of one sibling being cold and by-the-book and the other growing a heart and seeing the error in their ways is conventional, there is a welcome level of authenticity to it that makes it work.
All of the cast here is very good, but the standout is Alan Tudyk. Tudyk, who is known for disappearing into his roles with big and exaggerated turns, is doing something a lot more restrained here, and it’s probably his best performance yet. The other memorable turn comes from Michael McKean, who is great as the elder statesman of the con artists.
Brignac also makes some really inspired choices in the director’s chair. Just when it seems like the movie is going for a pretty standard execution, it ends up doing something that will blow you away. A montage set to the Beach Boys’ rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” during the emotional climax will give you chills.
Playing God is so much better than anyone would think it to be, making it one of the most unsung indies of the summer. Just don’t come in expecting an average heist comedy, as this character-driven film has something more in store.
Playing God is now available on VOD.