Simple questions rarely have simple answers. Take the one that’s posed to Lauren Monroe (Lily Collins) upon the death of her father Archer (Patrick Warburton): Are you loyal to your family or justice? Most would probably say both since they have it in their minds that their family is on justice’s side. Despite her desire to be one, however, Lauren isn’t that person. She partly worked to become District Attorney precisely because her family’s name was more aligned with money and murky morality than lawful practices. Archer unsurprisingly scoffed when she chose to go into civil law, knowing her considerable talents would better suit his interests in the private sector defending his friends. So now he’s posthumously supplying her one last chance to select family instead.
Director Vaughn Stein and screenwriter Matthew Kennedy do all they can to complicate their film Inheritance‘s central question so that Lauren must actually think about complying. She has too much to lose by not thinking about it regardless of how careful she was building her life outside of Archer’s empire. There’s her grieving mother (Connie Nielsen’s Catherine) to think about and her younger brother (Chace Crawford’s William) seeking reelection in a hotly contested campaign she’s already stumped for. To let one Monroe domino fall is to open the door for hundreds because that name holds enough weight to bind everyone to it no matter their involvement. And because Lauren’s husband took it as his own, it’s a name their daughter won’t be able to escape either.
All Archer had to do to push his eldest child into this impossible corner was make a public show of her getting a lot less money than her brother in the will and provide a private message delivering his darkest secret to her eyes only. While he keeps things vague because of how incriminating his actions are, (a vagueness that also helps to narratively set-up an inevitable rug pull we’ll spend the majority of the runtime waiting to experience), the evidence is anything but. A key and a guiding memory take Lauren to the woodland area behind the family estate wherein she discovers an underground bunker hidden beneath the leaves. Down she goes without a clue about Morgan Warner (Simon Pegg), the man chained inside its farthest room.
Family or justice? Lauren is known for putting people like her father behind bars, so calling the police should be her instant reaction. And if it was only Archer who stood to fall as a result of whatever occurred to put Morgan in captivity for three decades, she would have done exactly that. One glimpse at her oblivious family in the other room gives pause, though. She knows the media circus the truth would invite. She knows the money splashed around with a chess player’s intellect courtesy of Harold Thewlis’ (Michael Beach) will reading would be frozen until restitution was decided upon. Her mother would be out on the street. Her brother’s campaign would be over. And her reputation would be forever tarnished all because of their name.
Suddenly the privilege that allowed Lauren to get her education and later possess the ability to go against her father’s wishes rises to the surface. All the pain and suffering Morgan endured—the life that was stolen from him—becomes little more than a detail Lauren must weigh to decide whether losing her own comfort was worth the apology. Justice’s inherent black or white process turns gray in an instant when the heads of her flesh and blood are the ones lying on the guillotine. She has to be smart about this. Get every last bit of information out of Morgan she can and hopefully salvage a win for everyone. She’ll gladly trade Archer’s legacy for his victim’s freedom, but never Catherine’s, William’s, or her own.
The board is set for some intriguing commentary about our country’s wealth disparity and the incestuous nature of those in power perpetually deciding to do whatever they can to maintain it. Some comes through, but dealing with a cast of rich characters (Morgan would have been right with them if none of this happened) makes it impossible to truly embrace these issues as more than fodder for suspense. So don’t hope some stunning revelation is in store. Money corrupts and the corrupted are hardly in a position to do what’s necessary to be reformed since wealth hangs above their heads whether they believe it does or not. Lauren can say she doesn’t want her father’s millions, but she’s already used them to get where she is.
Does that make her any better than William—a politician we can assume utilized them with more explicit intent? Does it make her unwittingly complicit in her father’s crime because Morgan’s imprisonment helped secure the cushy life she lived? These are the questions I enjoyed throughout the film because they force Lauren to confront the fact that she cannot play both sides with this predicament. They get us to question her motivations and realize that the image of moral superiority she projects is nothing more than a façade, consciously constructed or not. We must therefore wonder if she’ll give Morgan the freedom he so desires after all and whether she’ll deserve the inevitable consequences that come with doing the right thing for not quite right reasons.
Inheritance might have benefited from its third act being a tad subtler, but I get the allure of throwing away nuance for splashy suspense. The other shoe dropping is never in question, but how it falls is definitely a convenient reshaping of an already captivating narrative for shock value. That the chaos unfolds precisely because Archer withheld information when revealing his secret never feels obnoxious, though. A man like him would surely have the hubris to endanger his loved ones out of paranoia. I merely think Pegg and Collins are too good during their tense conversations in the dark to let what follows be anything but over-the-top theatrics. Stein and Kennedy always entertain, but more focus on subtext rather than big twists would have gone a long way.
Inheritance hits VOD and Digital HD on Friday, May 22.