Review: The Tinder Swindler

The Tinder Swindler

Trailer

Do not approach

He goes by a variety of different names, but the general story never changes that much: he’s a handsome, rich businessman with an air of the mysterious, who is looking for someone to share his life with on Tinder. Whirlwind romances follow, before a crisis suddenly necessitates that his paramours fork over huge sums to him to prevent catastrophes. Of course it’s all a lie, one perpetrated by a master conmen, who has left a trial of broken hearts and empty bank accounts in his wake. In this documentary, Felicity Morris investigates the so-called “Tinder Swindler”: his methods, the efforts to bring him to justice and the victims who are trying to pick up the pieces.

Something in the vein of the excellent Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the director’s own Don’t F**k With Cats or the less good Operation: Varsity Blues here, as Netflix turns its hands once more to investigative journalism. Though in this case most of the work had already been long done, in a Norwegian tabloid VG article exposing “Simon Leviev” (one of a number of aliases), a prolific conman who has spent years swindling people out of money and has served a paucity of jailtime for it. Three of those victims show up here to discuss their experiences with the man, and the resulting story is deeply depressing, if not quite as engaging as filmmakers would like you to think.

It’s the only thing I can say for a film that struggles to get beyond the set-up and actually investigate how Leviev” was brought so some manner of justice. The full first half of The Tinder Swindler is dedicated to two victims telling very similar stories one after the other: this stuff isn’t unworthy, and important in putting a human face on the tragedy that has unfolded. But, with the greatest of respect for both women and what they went through, it isn’t a tale that needed double the telling. The Tinder Swindler takes what should be presented in a more dynamic cutthroat manner and turns it into something of a depressing slog: yes, the victims get more time to outline what occurred, but we know the plot beats before we’ve even started really, and it just isn’t why we are here. The importance is the connection between the two – Leviev’s con is essentially a Ponzi scheme where the money siphoned from one woman pays for impressing the next – but that’s just too thin a strand.

Much more interesting is the second half, when we follow along with the journalistic investigation and a bit of vigilante work done by one of the victims. This is proper true crime stuff done well, as a grim and frequently unbelievable picture of the titular conman is painted, where there’s always a bit of doubt owing to his inherent untrustworthiness. Is the woman claiming to be his estranged mother in the Tel Aviv apartment block for real? What’s with the woman who seemingly gave birth to his child, but after being listed as a victim in a Finnish court case? How violent was he ever prepared to be? Such questions keep The Tinder Swindler ticking over but, like much of true crime, the lack of hard answers will probably end up frustrating the viewer, as much as dealing with the all too predictable conclusion, where justice is fleeting and notoriety is a double-edged sword.

The look of the thing is enticing for sure. We open with a zoom in on a dormant phone before it springs to life to notify its user of a Tinder match, and the use of such graphics as it pertains to Tinder, Instagram and other apps is a big part of the ensuing film. It’ll date it for sure, but the effects are neat, and help to ground you in this digital world of matchmaking and deceit. In terms of actual film, the interviewees are shrouded in a darkness that makes their sections appear almost noir-like, and adds to the sense of a terrible mystery being uncovered. We could do with a sit-down with Leviev of course, but one suspects such things are impossible: there are only so many countries the guy is able to go anymore without being arrested.

So, it’s OK. Certainly the point has been made: a week and a half after the film’s release and Leviev’s various Instagram and Tinder profiles have been scrubbed, and it seems unlikely he will have an easy time should he try and con someone again, and that’s as much justice as we are liable to get on the topic. But Morris just doesn’t really know what the best part of the story is, and we are denied what we might call an emotionally satisfying conclusion by the tyranny of real-life events. That some of the victims are still open to love is only half the battle. They do their damndest to give some of the victims a voice, which is admirable, but the end result isn’t the most engaging. As a documentary from Netflix, this feels like something that is trying to capture the magic that came before with Fyre, and has been continued with several narratives since: but one suspects this brand of somewhat flashy stylistic documentary may already have seen its day done. This is a worthy story, but the filmed version didn’t trump the written one. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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1 Response to Review: The Tinder Swindler

  1. Pingback: Review – White Hot: The Rise And Fall Of Abercrombie & Fitch | Never Felt Better

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