Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher
Starring: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey
Career con artist Roy Courtenay (McKellen) cannot believe his luck when he meets wealthy widow Betty McLeish (Mirren) online. As the two of them start to get closer and Betty opens her life and home to Roy, he starts to find himself caring about her, making what was supposed be a simple swindle end up being far more complicated than he ever imagined.
Unless a film that is clearly very much a genre piece manages to do something incredibly clever, spectacular or original then it tends to actually be victim of the conventions that are commonly a part of that said genre that it has so blatantly nailed its colours to the mast of. From Carter Burwell’s (admittedly very good) score to the camera angles used, The Good Liar is undoubtedly a film that wants to be labelled under the banner of ‘slick thriller’ and certainly tries very hard to be such a film, with all the narrative conventions associated with the genre. Well, while it is certainly made with an undoubted competence, and is watchable and entertaining enough, it is just way too formulaic to ever be the gripping and edge-of-your-seat thriller that it aspires to be.
It may be the case that when seeing the final product all involved realised this, and so that is why all of the marketing has focussed on the cast, with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen’s names being in bigger font than that of the film’s title. Well, there is certainly no denying that the two leads are on great form and seem to enjoy facing off against one-another on the screen, and they definitely make The Good Liar that little bit more watchable.
Helen Mirren is predictably excellent, giving her character a believable sense of emotional vulnerability and complexity, without ever making her just a walking cliché. As much as the wonderfully talented Sir Ian McKellen is as much as a pleasure to watch in this film as he usually is, he does have a tendency to go a bit too far, chewing scenery a little too much at times as he tries to make his rather clichéd character seem as dastardly as possible. The script certainly doesn’t help either, but McKellen’s character is often just a two-dimensional nasty caricature, and so not especially interesting. Some of the supporting cast are however very good; Jim Carter is excellent as Roy’s partner in crime Vincent and delivers a far more natural feeling and low-key performance that is not only the perfect antidote to McKellen’s overreacting, but it also feels more convincing. Russell Tovey is also great as Betty’s grandson Steven.
As the main plot develops the performances keep things just about watchable, even if a subplot involving Roy and Vincent swindling money out of wealthy businessman feels silly and unnecessary, as is the use of some strange calculator-esque devises that are used to save and transfer money. However, the fact this film is of a certain genre means that it is most definitely not a spoiler to state that there will be a ‘twist’, and because of the nature of the film and its characters, certain traits of this twist are completely obvious. The only truly interesting thing about The Good Liar is basically waiting for its inevitable twist to happen and to see how the film will deal with those less obvious elements of the twist.
Well, though admittedly unexpected, the revelations in the film’s final third are a combination of ridiculous and rather distasteful. Though some of them do quite neatly tie up some loose ends of the first two thirds, they bring with them far more loose ends of their own that completely undermine the film’s general attempts at the beginning to be set very much in a cautionary ‘this could happen to anyone in the real world’ kind of way and go somewhere completely different. Though the revelations may explain certain character’s actions, they manage to be both unsatisfying due to their somewhat contrived nature, while also leaving a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.
There is a reason why the cast is the film’s main focus in its advertising; While the two leads keep things watchable, The Good Liar has very little else to offer due to it being a highly generic, often silly and overall highly forgettable genre piece.