In 1997, Jim Carrey received a then-almost-unheard-of $20 million paycheck for his role as a lawyer named Fletcher Reede in Liar Liar. He’s brilliant throughout the movie, but there is one scene in particular in which he really earned every penny of his hefty salary. It showcases what a great actor he is, and I think it’s the highlight of his entire career.
Setting the Stage
To give context to that scene, we first need to know what he did when he met his client Samantha Cole. She is suing her husband for half of his wealth in a divorce, and she is well aware that her case is flimsy, false, and unjust. She’s timid about her position and even forthright about her infidelity. She corrects Fletcher when he says she’d had one affair by confessing that she’s actually had seven. Basically, she’s a horrible, unfaithful woman, but at least she has one redeeming quality in that she admits her faults and recognizes them as bad.
Fletcher sees an opportunity in her case to make a good impression on his prospective partner in pursuit of wealth and power. He makes an impassioned speech telling her that she’s actually in the right. By the end of it, Fletcher has convinced her that she is the real victim in this case and that she deserves everything she’s demanding from her husband.
Actions Have Consequences
Unfortunately, Fletcher is so persuasive that he brings out the worst in her. Gone is her timidity, replaced by an arrogant evil now fully on display. To make matters worse, the day of her hearing, Fletcher is cursed by his son to only be able to tell the truth. He can’t lie, and his case depends on an elaborate web of lies to make it at all plausible. It looks like he’s doomed, but through a series of catastrophes and embarrassing revelations, he learns that it is indeed the truth that will save his client. She had lied about being an adult on her marriage certificate when she was actually just barely underage, which means that the prenuptial agreement she signed is null and void. So the judge rules in her favor, informing Mr. Cole that he owes his wife $11 million.
Previously, the couple had agreed to joint custody of their two young children. But now that Mrs. Cole has won, her evil side again rears its ugly head when she decides to contest custody to cause her husband (who she cheated on) even more emotional and financial pain. She wants an extra $10,000 in child support payments, and Fletcher rightly notes that she doesn’t need that money because she’s already set up for life with the millions she’ll now get. That’s when she twists the knife by using his own words as a justification to hurt her children and husband in the cruelest way she can imagine.
Can’t Lie to Himself
Fletcher realizes that he is responsible for all of this. It’s not just a case he could use to further his career as a lawyer. If he were to accept a partnership at the law firm, it would kill him inside because he’d know every time he stepped into the office that the only reason he’s there is because of something horrible he had done. None of the honor, money, or fame he’d receive could ever make up for the cold feeling in his heart that he is a bad father and a contemptible man. He learned that you can lie to others, but you can’t lie to yourself. We all know, deep down, if we’re good people or not. Hiding behind technicalities, partial truths, and manipulations will only get us so far. Eventually the truth will come out, and the true test of character is if we are able to state the truth boldly, knowing that it may hurt us in the short term.
The moment when Fletcher sees Mr. Cole kneeling sadly over the loss of his children and everything else in his life, he finally understands the true cost of his actions. Sure, he won the case by stating the truth, but the only reason it got to that point was because he had lied in his case notes and his statements to Mrs. Cole. She would have settled out of court at the start of the day if he hadn’t given her a false sense of hope that she could win dishonestly. That is why he reacts so viscerally to his potential law-firm partner’s handshake and practically demands the judge lock him up for being in contempt of court. He couldn’t stand the thought of winning his case if it meant losing his soul.
The Best Moment
That brings me to the part I’ve been building up to. My favorite moment in Jim Carrey’s career isn’t when he told a roomful of high-class people not to go into the bathroom in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, made the most annoying sound in the world in Dumb and Dumber, embarrassed Evan Baxter on live TV in Bruce Almighty, or smashed his fists against the edge of his prison in The Truman Show. No, his best performance comes in a quiet moment in Liar Liar when he, for once, is stunned into silence. After his court case is won, he sees the devastation he’s caused. He looks from Mr. Cole to heaven and then around the courtroom, as though he’s pleading for forgiveness, knowing that he is guilty of a great sin. He no longer sees the world through the prism of his ego, but through the eyes of all the people his actions have affected, including Mr. Cole and his children. It’s a crushing feeling that is perfectly captured in the way his eyes move.
That is the moment I realized Jim Carrey is a great actor. He managed to convey so many feelings in only a few seconds of silence while it took me nearly 1,000 words to relate them all. That is the mark of genius.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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