The Tinder Swindler, Netflix's latest true crime documentary, exposes the hazards of online dating by unveiling a con man's scheme that defrauded a group of women out of huge amounts of money.
This gripping documentary, directed by Felicity Morris, continues Netflix's tradition of true-crime thrillers about con artists' escapades. The Tinder Swindler is a cautionary story about the dangers of trusting strangers you meet on the internet.
Posing as the troubled ‘prince of diamonds,’ Leviev uses the dating app Tinder to first emotionally entice women into his life as the son of an Israeli diamond mogul. He then pushes them to monetarily rescue him from his mortal adversaries, digging deeper into the woman's individual funds with each new threat to his life.
Of course, there is no threat since there is no Simon Leviev. He uses money borrowed from one woman to sustain his lavish lifestyle, which he flaunts in front of his next possible victim, spinning a web of deception across multiple European cities.
But director Felicity Morris' documentary is about the deceived, not the con man. She takes a risk by telling a low-stakes story.
This is not a story about a large-scale public scam; rather, it is about personal losses. So, what's the secret to its success? Morris' decision to focus the documentary on the stories of three women — Cecilie Fjellhy, Pernilla Sjöholm, and Ayleen Charlotte — who were conned by Leviev.
Unlike a quintessential con man documentary, The Tinder Swindler does not glamorise the con man. The film does not extol Leviev's ‘brilliance’ or ‘craftsmanship,’ nor does it launch into an aesthetic spiel on the perfect crime.
Instead, viewers see these women’s complete financial collapse, as they struggle not only to repay the debts, but also to recover emotionally in order to confront Leviev in the second half of the film.
In the film, the ‘emotional con’ is finally addressed by hardened candour, as Cecilie and Pernilla group together to expose Leviev's entire schtick in one of Norway's largest newspapers, the VG. As a result, vulnerability — Leviev's preferred weapon — is used against him as both women lay bare their entire path into being swindled.
Whereas most true-crime documentaries find it difficult to balance entertainment and depicting a harrowing story, The Tinder Swindler gets things right by emphasising sensitivity.
It's also a joy to watch from a stylistic standpoint. The three women were interviewed at different restaurants and the documentary begins with Cecilie's. Viewers end up spending 21 minutes with her, listening to her tale, and the film feels captivating, almost personal, as if you're listening to a friend discussing about her life.
The gentle lighting in these scenes is also a welcome break from the social media posts and screenshots that are contrasted over the voiceover.
As the film nears its conclusion, it picks up speed, giving the indication that the women are on the verge of victory, that the con man has finally been backed into a corner. However, the vindication is paltry in comparison to the publicity it received.
At its core, the documentary feels like a continuation of Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen's susceptible bravery. A story that made headlines in Norwegian and Israeli media is now trending globally. This has prompted the three women, who still owe money, to set up a GoFundMe page.