Often films based around con-artists and heists are some of cinema’s most entertaining, not least because of the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Playing God is just as ambitious as every one of them, with a clever premise that unfortunately doesn’t quite hit the mark.
The story involves Rachel and Micah, a pair of sibling con artists who find themselves scamming a grieving billionaire Ben, in an attempt to raise the funds for a man from Micah’s past who claims they owe him money. Ben has yet to get over the death of his daughter, and so Rachel and Micah pose as ‘angels’ while calling on the help of their old mentor Frank (Michael McKean) to play the role of God, to offer answers to Ben over his daughter’s death and con him in the process.
It’s a clever idea on paper, but the messy execution leads to a very convoluted film that tries to handle too much at once. There are a couple of subplots that feel completely unnecessary, and more time spent with Frank playing God would have made for a much more enjoyable outing. Instead there a few mundane plot points that don’t feel worthy of the screen time in comparison to other events going on in the film.
Michael McKean is absolutely the standout here. We first meet Frank working at a bowling alley, spraying shoes and all the mundane tasks that go along with it. At first, he’s hesitant, but Micah’s subtle manipulation works a charm on Frank to get him on board. McKean is fantastic in showing Frank’s temptation when offered the role by the siblings, and he’s even better once he assumes the role of God. It’s clear he had a lot of fun with this performance, just as Frank begins to enjoy his new position.
In fact, the film’s standout scene is set on a rooftop where Ben goes to meet ‘God’ for the first time. McKean is exquisite, and it’s only a shame that there weren’t more scenes like this. Everything about the plan is meticulously crafted – from the flying birds, to Frank knowing what he had for breakfast – and it’s an incredibly well written and performed scene.
The film’s other strong performance is Hannah Kasulka, who brings a lot of heart and likeability to Rachel despite the questionable acts she commits throughout the film. Perhaps best known for her role in the television series The Exorcist, it’s clear watching this that Kasulka is one big mainstream role away from stardom, and she has all the talent in the world to make that happen. She shares some of the film’s best scenes in her tender moments with Alan Tudyk’s Ben, but there aren’t enough of those emotional beats throughout the film.
Speaking of Tudyk, he has long been a reliable character actor and here is no exception, knocking all his scenes out of the park with the sadness and desperation he brings to Ben. Luke Benward is fine as Micah, but the character is inconsistent and not as well written as his sister Rachel, thus never really giving him a chance to show off his acting chops.
Director and Writer Scott Brignac clearly shows a lot of talent both as a writer with the film’s genius premise, and as a director with the ability to bring out such strong performances. The film’s downfall is perhaps that it’s too ambitious, attempting to try too much and too hard to juggle multiple messages and plot points at once. It becomes messy, and would have benefitted from a much tighter structure.
Overall, Playing God suffers from trying to tell too much, however there’s no denying some of the excellent performances throughout, especially from Michael McKean and Hannah Kasulka, the latter of whom feels on the verge of a true breakout. Brignac deserves praise for his genius idea, even as the film loses its way.