With that cast, director, and screenwriter, ‘The Good Liar’ should have been phenomenal. Director Bill Condon has directed some truly memorable movies like ‘Gods and Monsters,’ and with screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher gave us a fantastic Ian McKellen performance in ‘Mr. Holmes.’ So this is a veritable sure-fire combination of creative minds at work. Add to the mix the always magnificent Helen Mirren and you should have magic flowing from that screen.
Instead, ‘The Good Liar’ never really hits great big dramatic heights. Despite the powerhouse talent involved here, the film just rests comfortably in a mid-level thriller that doesn’t really juggle well its comic potential and sense of danger.
It’s the story of a con artist, Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen), who takes on the recently widowed Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) as his next victim. Roy is the titular character, and the film gives us many opportunities to see him at work, utilizing McKellen’s charm to pull the story in two different directions. In some ways, it’s funny. McKellen is so likable that you find yourself rooting for him even when his intentions are never good. What is even more shocking is the extent of what he is capable of in closing up loose ends.
There’s equal measure of danger and comedy that doesn’t quite intertwine in the narrative. It’s two separate tonal textures to the film that keeps it from feeling completely cohesive. Coupled with Helen Mirren’s doe-eyed and clueless Betty McLeish, he keeps getting deeper and deeper entrenched in Roy Courtnay’s game, and the film doesn’t quite amplify the danger that she is in because the film veers in two separate directions.
And it doesn’t help that the film’s trailer and the film itself feels like it’s holding something back, like there’s a twist that is waiting to be sprung. The camera lingers just a little longer than expected, an unusual facial reaction pops up from the most ordinary of stimulus, and so on.
And when the twist comes, it comes without a proper set up so there’s a massive reveal that transpires in the second half of the film that cuts the film’s momentum completely. It’s a structural mess that is so undeserving of McKellen and Mirren, who are doing such an amazing job all throughout.
But as it fails as a thriller, ‘The Good Liar’ manages to open the doors to so many perspectives about people of a certain age; about their lives and their capabilities. The main characters’ age is an important aspect to both the plot and the film’s theme as it doesn’t just talk about their future but also their history and how it all just ties up together.
This was an aspect that could have grounded the film and kept the film engaging instead of focusing on keeping so much information from the audience that it ends up becoming a massive information dump at the very end. Sacrifice the mystery and the twist since it wasn’t so well executed, and amplify the con and the themes that it plays up about people who are advanced in their age.
We knew anyway that it was coming so they should have given it away and given the actors a chance to really bring this film to another level like we know they could.
‘The Good Liar’ isn’t so much as a bad film as it ends really sloppily. It could have been great, but it fails to truly soar under the weight of its narrative twist.