IFC Films
Reviewed for and, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Adam Patterson, Declan Lawn
Screenplay: Michael Bronnerk, Declan Lawn, Adam Patterson
Cast: James Norton, Gemma Arterton, Marisa Abela, Shazad Latif, Sarah Goldberg, Jimmy Akingbola
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/15/22
Opening: August 12, 2022

If you have a phone or a computer, you have no doubt been harassed by scam calls. You wonder: how is it possible that these rogues think that a smart guy can fall for absurd requests for money? Well, Alice Archer (Gemma Arterton), a woman even smarter than me, was swindled out of £120,000; a lawyer, no less. The guy who lightened up his bank account must have been pretty smart, and the way Robert Freegard (James Norton) operates, he’d probably make you shell out your entire bank account.

Stunningly played by Gemma Arterton as Alice Archer and James Norton as Robert Freegard, Adam Patterosn and Declan Lawn’s film finds Freegard first as a bartender, then a car salesman, claiming to be an undercover MI5 agent. He would claim that the Irish Republican Army threatened the women with murder, terrorizing them into allowing themselves to be kidnapped and cutting off contact with their families. This is where you get the psychology of kidnappers like him: he warns them that if they go to the police, MI5 will expose them as disloyal.

His career takes a turn when he deals with Sarah, whom he uses his charm to steal the $80,000 from by manipulating her into getting her parents to wire the money to him, then arranging with his latest victim to take control of the money himself. But he couldn’t learn a lesson. Though he makes Alice fall for him as a ploy to get her money, he goes overboard when Alice gets an agent to work with her, going through a list of her many phone calls, to track him down and lead to her arrest. .

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The amount of material on Robert Freegard’s Wikipedia page provides enough information on Freegard’s many scams to sustain a season of episodes on any streaming service. Oh but wait! Netflix has picked up his story in a docuseries “The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman.” Although the archive films and interviews may be doing a more complete job than Patterson and Lawn, the series takes some of the drama away.

This is Adam Patterson’s feature directorial debut, while Declan Lawn is known for penning a fact-filled three-episode BBC drama “The Salisbury Poisonings,” about a poisoning crisis in the town of Salisbury.

116 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

History – B+
Acting – A-
Technician – B
Overall – B+