Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russell Tovey
Advertised as the first ever pairing of Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellen, The Good Liar boasts perhaps two of film’s all-time greatest. Based on the best-selling book by Nicholas Searle (a former British Intelligence officer) and adapted to screen by (MN native) Jeffrey Hatcher, McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, an octogenarian career swindler who preys on greedy businessmen by day and conning rich, lonely widows of their retirement by night. Via online dating, he meets Betty McLeish (Mirren), a former Oxford professor and widower. She is immediately swept off her feet by Roy’s charming ways, to the chagrin of her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey) who grows suspicious of his nebulous history and character. Is he there to steal her money? Of course. But will this be an easy con, or are there twists and turns up ahead?
As expected, the two leads give a solid performance. McKellen is smooth, easy to watch and almost fun. The same can be said of Mirren, who exudes an airy, determined cool that seems so effortless. The first two thirds of the film is a slow burn of calculated intensity. The thriller unfolds with the taut directness of a Graham Greene novel. Propelled by the actors fine execution, The Good Liar engaged me throughout the first and second act.
Craftily directed by Condon (Gods and Monsters), the film, while predictable, stays focused and lets the two leads carry the weight for the most part. But it all falls apart in the third and final act. While we anticipated the oncoming twists just around the bend, some aspects of the story bordered on the preposterous and came dangerously close to being camp. The final third of the film unintentionally gave off the scent of being an exploitation film. Revenge movies of the late 60s and early seventies come to mind as well as pulp novels they were based on.
Because of Mirren and McKellen, we can forgive the unconvincing story in exchange for their screen presence. And they do give off an entertaining and unique chemistry. But I left the theatre feeling a bit swindled myself. Conned out of an ending that wouldn’t leave me feeling hollow and ambivalent. As good as they were in the film, it seems an opportunity was lost here for something that could have been really special.
The Good Liar is a slick, almost elegant (thanks to Carter Burwell’s score) but uneven film. The genius of the two lead actors mask the inadequacies of the story and screenplay, but not enough to save it from its own predictability and obviousness. It should be said that it was well-intentioned – addressing important issues regarding gender and portraying the redemption of one of its characters. But in truth, The Good Liar is so-so and just missed being great.
So did you get to see THE GOOD LIAR? Let us know what you think!