playing god 2021 review

Review: Playing God 2021 Movie

In the movies, the long con usually stays low to the ground, relying on feints and tricks, which, in hindsight, were right in front of you all along. The new Houston-based film “Playing God” takes a different tack. Its royal scam comes flavored with a spiritual dimension, or at least the illusion of one, raising the stakes for both the perpetrators and the mark. As it turns out, bringing God into the mix conjures all manner of moral dilemmas.

Rachel (Hannah Kasulka) and Micah (Luke Benward) are orphaned twins who have fashioned themselves into skilled con artists, working short rackets and long. Charming, attractive, they know how to use what they’ve got — until Micah’s past catches up with them in the form of a bad guy named Vaughn (Mark Menchaca of “Ozark”). It seems Micah has bilked Vaughn out of $100,000; being a bad guy, Vaughn is ready to play hardball to recoup his cash.

These early moments establish “Playing God” as a slick, sharply written balancing act between comedy and thriller, with a lean funk score (by Joshua Moore) and a whole lot of downtown Houston (including lots of drone shots). There’s something blithe about the tone, even when we’re led to believe Rachel and Micah’s lives are in danger.

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Then things start to get interesting. The twins are alerted to the presence of Ben (Alan Tudyk), a billionaire on a desperate spiritual quest following the death of his young daughter. Tudyk, one of the best character actors in the game, manages to infuse this tragic character with comic notes. To Micah, however, he’s just a potential mark, and an unusually wealthy one at that. How can the twins use Ben’s spiritual anguish to separate him from his money?

This brings us to the film’s other golden supporting performance, and to the leap of faith required of the audience. The twins pay a visit to their old mentor Frank (Michael McKean, best known these days for his work on “Better Call Saul”). Frank runs a skating rink, a magnificently long, dark space where he spends much of his time disinfecting the skates. Rachel and Micah have something grander in mind: literally playing God for the bereaved Ben, in hopes of somehow fleecing him dry.

This is where you either go where “Playing God” is taking you — maybe McKean could pass for the Almighty? — or you get off the ride. Except it’s actually possible to do both. It’s a thin conceit that Ben is close enough to the end of his rope to buy the ruse, no matter how well Tudyk and McKean sell it. But you don’t have to believe it to enjoy it. What doesn’t work on a logic level makes sense according to the characters and performances. And the twists — a con movie always has twists — are quite satisfying, even if you see them coming. (I didn’t, but I rarely do.)

Written and directed by Houston’s Scott Brignac, “Playing God” is a thoroughly competent independent film with plenty on its mind. Two of my favorite questions here: How do ethics play into the art of the scam? And does spiritual desperation make one more likely to believe? That “Playing God” offers few pat answers is a sign of its ambition and a good reason to watch. It may be slick, but it’s not shallow.

Originally published at houstonchronicle

Ella Smith has been a brilliant writer and her writing is impressive. She often writes for Educational and motivational topics that is a great point in her. She has started writing for Brightshub for a couple of months.
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