“Secrets between you, God, the Devil, and the dead“.
Bill Condon‘s drama thriller, The Good Liar, boasts two great performances from acting royalty Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellen. Their chemistry is authentic, magnetic, and intoxicatingly charming, making it all the more astonishing that this is their first collaboration. For a film shortly under the two hour mark, it does feel incredibly long, especially due to the unfortunate fact that it reveals it’s hand very fast. I love me a good novel mystery, but the fun gets taken out of it when you can call the twist extremely early on. And by early on, I mean that I’d be willing to bet that had I seen the trailer, I’d be able to call at least 60% of the twists and the major reveal spot on. I’m rather confident that the film will find its smaller target demographic of Boomers, but ultimately fails to garner a recommendation or standout praise from myself. The Good Liar is very much watered down elderly version of a certain David Fincher film I will not name.
At the risk of revealing or hinting towards any plot detail that may lead you to pick apart the already superficial bandage, I’ll brief you as vaguely as possible. Ian McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, an elderly con-artist who spends his days deviously planning out elaborate white-collar hustles. For Roy it’s much more than just the financial profit, as his appetite for setting the game afoot has only grown in his decades of playing. Through the use of an online dating service, he meets recently widowed Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), who happens to be quite wealthy and apparently an easy catch. What ensues is an appropriately aged game of cat and mouse, where secrets begin to emerge and appearances may not be what they seem. There’s no question that both leads are having a grand time opposite one another, and regardless of some very indicative writing, you do find yourself falling under their seductive and seemingly harmless charm. The Good Liar is an adaptation of Nicholas Searle‘s 2015 novel of the same name. If his character writing and dialogue is even half as alluring and enjoyable as McKellen and Mirren are on screen, I can imagine the novel being the better route to go with.
The film is set in 2009 England, which allows for two primary elements. The first being that we are treated to a scene in which McKellen and Mirren’s characters have a movie date night, in which the selected film is none other than Tarantino‘s Inglourious Basterds. A highlight moment that may seem random, but does idees serve a thematic purpose. The second element is that the mystery is assisted by limited technology, preventing any possible shortcut solutions, and bypassing the abundance of information accessibility we have today. Unfortunately, The Good Liar plays out as another run-of-the-mill airport mystery novel, only elevated to brief moments of entertainment by the two veteran leads. Bill Condon may be best known for Mr. Holmes (also featuring Ian McKellen), the live action Beauty and the Beast, or the WikiLeaks based, The Fifth Estate. But perhaps to an appreciated lesser degree, it’s worth noting he also helmed both of the Twilight Breaking Dawn films. Condon is certainly a capable director, and he knows how to handle the already highly experienced actors, but I could not help in feeling that The Good Liar would work far better as a direct to television special, perhaps on HBO. Like it’s decade old setting, the film unfortunately does feel dated.
Fear not, I will not be spoiling you, but I’d like to touch upon just how out of nowhere the twist felt. When I mentioned earlier that I could more than likely accurately predict the revelation from the trailer, I meant it. Prior to finishing this section of the review, I watched the trailer on YouTube, and was not surprised with how my wild accusation actually held some validity. In that same vein of intuition, the film’s reveal does seem like a wild accusation because there were barely any hints or clues offered that would be considered beyond circumstantial. And even once the film has laid out its already visible hand late in the game, it inexplicably feels the urge to break down every single step and drag out its far too long exposition. I must have glanced at my watch a handful of times within the last 10 minutes of the film.
C Review beauty and the beast bill condon david fincher helen mirren ian mckellen inglourious basterds mr holmes nicholas searle quentin tarantino the fifth estate the good liar twilight twilight breaking dawn
Film Studies/History graduate, using my love and knowledge of the medium to pass as a critic. I’m typically known for longer write-ups, and my eclectic taste ranging from awards darlings, European filmé, indie spirits, cinematic universes, and most notably 80s cult films. Hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and remember, watch whatever, whenever, with whomever.