Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen are well matched in this thriller based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle. Directed by Bill Condon (GODS AND MONSTERS, 1998, for which he won an Oscar for screenwriter, DREAMGIRLS, 2006, MR. HOLMES, 2015) and written by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, THE GOOD LIAR takes place in London 2009.
We are introduced to the two main characters, Betty McLeish (Mirren) and Roy Courtnay (McKellen) as they refine their profiles for an online dating service. After their first meeting in person, Betty is picked up by her over-protective grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), and Roy catches a ride from his partner in crime, Vincent (Jim Carter).
Roy and Vincent already have one con working. They are duping two businessmen into investing in a land scheme involving a couple of Russian mobsters. When that ends in success, Roy sets his sights on conning Betty, who is a widow with a healthy bank account.
Using time and Vincent’s persuasive techniques, the two men finally get Betty to agree to turn over her savings. What happens next is the surprising twist in THE GOOD LIAR.
Whenever you have a film dedicated to a con job, invariably there are those who will pick it apart. Though THE GOOD LIAR is far from perfect, it’s thoroughly enjoyable enough. Mirren is her usual terrific self, playing Betty, the former history teacher at Oxford University, with a specific naivete. She is brilliant in her own manipulations of events --- we would expect nothing less from her.
McKellen is devilishly evil as the sly swindler with an easy-going manner and sheepish smile who is capable of inflicting great harm. Both he and Mirren are wonderful to watch, and they have a certain chemistry that is unmistakable. She manipulates him --- he uses her --- it’s all great fun --- until it isn’t, and we learn the real truth.
THE GOOD LIAR is unfortunately not exceptional. It is fairly well conceived and written, and, as I mentioned, there are some questionable moments, but I will not ruin the fun. It’s great to see Jim Carter in a good supporting role after DOWNTON ABBEY, though Vincent isn’t really given much to do. And Tovey does a very convincing job as Betty’s research-obsessed grandson.
A really great mystery/thriller is incredibly difficult to pen --- and then turn into an even better film. Just think of all the Agatha Christie novels which have been made into movies --- some better than others. THE GOOD LIAR proves my point.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) and Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) get together for dinner after their initial meeting via an online dating service. If nothing else, THE GOOD LIAR proves that you’re never too old to find companionship on the internet.
But the film is much more than a potential fluff piece about an elderly tryst. Under Oscar winner Bill Condon’s direction --- he won the Best Screenplay award in 1998 for GODS AND MONSTERS --- these two accomplsihed actors engage the audience in an intellectual thriller that is as unpredictable as it is capably written --- screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher based on the Nicholas Searle novel.
Roy is a con man, ably abetted by his cohort Vincent (Jim Carter, fresh off the DOWNTON ABBEY reunion movie). Carter is one of those consummate actors with an undeniable screen presence.
Betty is a wealthy widow who is intrigued by an investment scheme presented to her by Roy and Vincent, but she doesn’t dive in right away. Thus, THE GOOD LIAR takes its time as Roy and Betty build a relationship while the plot builds to a surprising conclusion. The film has a Hitchcockian feel to it of which the “Master of Suspense” would likely have approved.
A secondary storyline shows how brutal an individual Roy can be. But just as he barbarically murders a past associate, he appears to be falling for Betty. What’s a vicious con man to do? Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), is wary of Roy’s motives but he eventually comes around --- or does he? --- to show he has misjudged Roy.
THE GOOD LIAR is a satisfying cat-and-mouse caper made compelling by superb performances from the veteran cast. And this is McKellen’s third collaboration with Condon, including the aforementioned GODS AND MONSTERS and MR. HOLMES (2015).
Opinion: See It Now!