Film Review – The Tinder Swindler
The Tinder Swindler
Within the log jam of Netflix true crime documentaries is The Tinder Swindler (2022). Directed by Felicity Morris, this is a fast-paced look at how a scam artist manipulated his way into the lives of countless European women, eventually conning them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although the streaming giant has a reputation for stretching out its true crime stories into lengthy episodes, this standalone film breezes by in a flash. The direction and editing balances out the details, delving into the intricacies of the fraud and its massive ripple effects. This is one of those twisty tales – revealing new information at every turn. I wouldn’t be surprised if viewers went online to further investigate what happened after the credits rolled.
Although online dating is not as taboo as it once was, Morris’ film shows that the image people present through social media may not always reflect who they really are. Our main protagonists – Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen – learned this the hard way. They each met a man named Simon Leviev through the dating app Tinder. Heir to a diamond fortune, Simon was suave, sophisticated, and unbelievably wealthy. Google searches appeared to confirm his identity. Pictures and video recordings capture him wearing designer clothes, eating at lavish restaurants, and globe-trotting to exotic locations. Each of the three women became seduced by Simon and his lifestyle. Although not all of them connected romantically (Pernilla saw him as a close friend), they all were enraptured by his aura. Soon, they were by his side, lapping up in the luxury he afforded.
Of course, none of this was real, and as the story progressed Simon’s layers began to peel away to reveal his true motives. He used his perceived wealth to build confidence with the women. Once he gained their trust, he would spring into action. It starts with a fake story about a business deal going bad, then some bloody photos are shared, then suddenly his assets are frozen. Taking advantage of the women’s willingness to help, Simon would ask to borrow some cash, eventually escalating to the point where his victims would be taking out loans at multiple banks. All the funds would go to pay for Simon’s expensive ways.
It was truly an elaborate scheme, and Morris (along with editor Julian Hart) details how Simon was able to pull it off. Communicating almost entirely over text messages and voice notes, Simon maintained his ruse by presenting the same image to each woman and tweaking certain aspects to win them over. When Pernilla mentioned that she was not attracted to Simon, he conjured up a relationship with another woman to appear less threatening. He would repeat the same texts and would send the same pictures to each woman in a rotating fashion. During one sequence, we witness Simon send the exact same video message to his targets from the same seat in his private plane. It’s as though he had a template for what to say and just switched the names accordingly.
One trap Morris avoids is blaming the women for falling for Simon’s con. When the story broke out on the news, they were swamped with a cascade of comments victim-shaming them for either being gullible or for being gold diggers. Fortunately, Morris allows them to speak for themselves, for us to enter their mindset and how they saw things fall apart. Cecilie, Pernilla, and Ayleen wanted to see the goodness in other people. They are compassionate, which is the very reason Simon targeted them. This is especially true for Cecilie. Early on, Cecilie describes the whirlwind romance Simon took her on. He swept her off her feet before she even realized what was happening. Cecilie is a confessed romantic, and her initial interactions with Simon were straight out of a fairytale. To punctuate this notion, Morris juxtaposes Cecilie’s interview with clips from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991). Sadly, the prince Cecilie was hoping for turned out to be a nothing but a beast.
Things take a dramatic turn when the women catch wind of Simon’s falsehood and join forces with journalists and authorities to take him down. There is a thriller aspect going on in the second half. Dramatic recreations have an espionage vibe filled with car chases, hidden cameras, and secret recordings. Tension rises to a peak here, as the women describe their feelings of anxiety being around Simon and not knowing what kind of danger he poses. As the walls begin to close around him, his actions become more erratic. The text messages and voice notes that Simon used to build relationships are the very things that expose his sociopathic behavior. He goes from tossing angry threats to desperate pleas for help. There is an admittedly satisfying feeling throughout this section, watching a criminal lose all his power and getting a taste of his own medicine. Seeing him hit rock bottom, albeit temporarily, is a gratifying bit of karma we don’t normally see in true crime documentaries.
There is no debate that the internet has changed the world in both positive and negative ways. While people around the world can easily connect through their phones, tablets, and computers, it has also opened new avenues for con artists to operate behind fake profile pictures. Simon Leviev is an example of this taken to an extreme. The Tinder Swindler explores how easily it is to fall victim to a scam in the digital age. While it may not be as scandalous or absurd as other true crime docs, the effective structure, pacing, and tone make this an engaging watch.