Directed by Bill Condon, The Good Liar stars Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren as Roy and Betty, two pensioners who meet on online dating. Secrets are being kept from one another, and the truth gets increasingly complex and dangerous, and will definitely not go in the way you think.
I have an increasingly mixed opinion about Bill Condon as a writer and director. While I do love his 2004 film Kinsey and I respect what he did with 1998’s Gods and Monsters, I still think that his work on films like Chicago, Dreamgirls, the last two Twilight movies, and especially The Fifth Estate and Beauty and the Beast ranges from amateur to downright awful. Still, The Good Liar looked interesting in the trailers and having two bona fide screen legends working together for the first time was too hard to ignore.
The Good Liar keeps up a solid pace and the twists and turns that go on get increasingly weighty and complex, but do effectively ratchet up the tension and our interest in these two characters and who they are together, until it all doesn’t. Once you finally understand just what the hell has been going on this whole time, it’s an empowering truth for one character but makes the other seem like a completely character, and not in the positive way. We have been paying attention to one character, understanding what they’re after, but when the final truth is out, we don’t feel like they have exampled those inner traits detailed by the other character.
I know I’m being incredibly vague but the plot of this film is the point of the story; it’s a mystery you have to figure out as things go along. When or if you do see this, then you might understand what I am referring to, but I think it’s wrong to spoil it here. I can nonetheless talk about how great Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren. McKellen obviously has a good working relationship with Condon and trusts in him to express himself as an actor capable of charm and grace but also viciousness and raw power. Mirren plays a lovely and sweet old lady, in search of some companionship, but she has her own secrets just waiting to be revealed, and she is just as equally compelling as McKellen. Both of these legendary actors fill the screen with so much energy and intensity even in a simple conversation and I thoroughly enjoyed watching all of their scenes.
Condon does know how to shoot a film, and does so with effective skill thanks to cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler and editor Virginia Katz, and Jeffrey Hatcher as screenwriter does choose to rely on dialogue scenes to tell the bulk of the story. The Good Liar is a mostly enjoyable mystery film to crack, but once it’s over the questions start coming that begin to tear apart its internal logic and ultimate messages and characterisations until it just makes little sense. The Good Liar is a solid surface-level film that lacks a strong core or some necessary story to tell in the end, and perhaps would have been more effective as a stage drama. I’d go see it for sure if McKellen and Mirren were still involved.
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Jim Carter
Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher, Nicholas Searle