The Good Liar-2019
Starring-Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren
Scott’s Review #1,201
Reviewed November 26, 2021
The Good Liar (2019) is a well-acted film but by the numbers, the thriller made as good as it can be thanks to superior acting. Casting British heavyweights Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren automatically provide enough star power and credibility to save any lame plot.
This is the first time the actors have appeared in a film together though they have appeared on stage together.
The film moves along at a brisk pace and there is never a moment of boredom. While the main storyline at first is intriguing, the inevitable twist at the ending is satisfying. Suspension of disbelief is required and a portion of the backstory is unnecessary.
Nothing is as it seems.
Roy Courtnay (McKellen) is a dashing career con man. He is suave and used to getting what he wants out of people- to his advantage and their disadvantage. He cagily dips into the online dating pool and stumbles upon an older woman named Betty McLeish (Mirren) ripe for the picking. She is rich, divorced, and lonely.
What could go wrong?
As Betty opens her life and home to him, Roy is surprised to find himself caring about her, turning what should be a cut-and-dry swindle into the most treacherous tightrope walk of his life.
Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), is a constant annoyance to Roy when he questions Roy’s intentions urging his grandmother to be wary of the man.
As the plot begins I kept thinking that there is no way that Betty could be so gullible, lonely or not. This kept me engaged until the big reveal that fills the final thirty minutes or so. If The Good Liar did not contain something more than the banal plot it would have been a real dud.
To continue with the storyline element the ultimate motivations of Betty, while clever, are hard to believe. Not to ruin any plot points but the whole Nazi element from the 1940s feels superfluous and easy. The revenge motives feel extremely plot-driven and meant as a thrown-in explanation.
From a timeline perspective, it also doesn’t make much sense and if events take place during present times it would put Roy and Betty in their 90’s! The characters are assumed to be in their mid-70’s.
Nonetheless, despite Roy being the villain I fell in love with him. His shenanigans appealed to me despite my better judgment. His trickery when he feigns a knee injury to manipulate Betty while dashing into a corporate meeting minutes later was enamoring instead of mortifying.
The chemistry between McKellen and Mirren is tremendous since both actors know their way around carrying a film and are confident with their abilities. This comes across onscreen and the romantic element works.
The Good Liar also gets respect from me for featuring actors in their golden years in leading roles.
Bill Condon has directed a variety of films including Chicago (2002) and Dreamgirls (2006). The Good Liar is hardly on this level nor is it one of his finest but the director adds enough seasoning to assure a compelling experience.
The locales of London and later of Berlin, Germany is robust and a treat for any viewer who is partial to the international filming. I am! Plenty of busy London streets and German architecture appear during the film.
The slickness and excellent acting by McKellen and Mirren save The Good Liar (2019) from the drivel it might have been with lesser actors and inferior direction. Instead, it’s a clever film that toys with its viewers keeping them engaged until the very end.