The Good Liar
Starring Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter,
Oscar-winner Bill Condon ("Chicago," "Beauty and the Beast") has an eclectic filmography, dabbling in both big-budget CGI films like "The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn," and smaller films aimed at multi-generational audiences like "Mr. Holmes." "The Good Liar" marks the first film Oscar-nominee Ian McKellen ("The Lord of the Rings") and Oscar-winner Helen Mirren ("The Queen") have shared together. What begins with “Distinction Dating for Seniors” evolves into a suspenseful drama with an ending so far out of left field, it nearly diminishes the great work done by McKellen throughout the movie. Within the moment, "The Good Liar" is compelling, yet leaves nothing on the table to discuss and zero nuance for the audience to chew on. It’s a cut and dry film with a simple message, don’t lie.
A widow and widower meet through an online dating service for singles and quickly form an intimate relationship. Betty McLeish (Mirren) grows rather fond of Roy Courtnay (McKellen), inviting him to move into her guest bedroom on account of his wobbly knees. Both have health issues, but find each other’s company rejuvenating. Betty’s grandson, Steven (Tovey) doesn’t approve of the relationship, nor at the speed in which it’s moving. His objections are overruled as the two plan a trip abroad together and consider combining their financial assets for greater gains in the market. Kevin’s research into Roy’s past proves things are not as they seem, but then it takes a liar to know one.
A great twist ending lays groundwork that audiences can re-watch and follow the breadcrumbs when they know the whole story. The Good Liar doesn’t have that, it just takes one big turn and drops a big explanation on the viewer.
It’s difficult to dive into what works and what doesn’t in "The Good Liar," without spoiling the plot. The story is intentionally set in 2009 before computer online dating had given way to dating apps on smartphones. The way in which the two elder characters enjoy their computers is quite impressive, and sets the tone that these are not your normal grandparents. A great twist ending lays the groundwork that audiences can re-watch to follow the breadcrumbs after they know the whole story. "The Good Liar" doesn’t have that, it just takes one big turn and drops a big explanation on the viewer in an extended flashback. The direction isn’t much to speak of either, Condon isn’t doing anything here that any other director couldn’t.
McKellen’s performance is surprisingly spry, comical, witty, devilish and multidimensional as an elderly Talented Mr. Ripley. Mirren is sidelined for much of the movie, but those paying attention will wonder why the spunky star would be cast in the simple role of the naive widow. The two actors are the entire film and your enjoyment will likely depend on how much entertainment you derive from watching the stage and screen actors interact. "The Good Liar" like many of Condon’s films, are intended more for a multi-generational age group. However, that doesn’t mean audiences of all ages wouldn’t appreciate a bit more in the way of cinematic appeal.
McKellen and Mirren are everything you want, it’s too bad the other elements don’t share their energy.