Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 49 minutes, Director – Bill Condon
A con-artist (Ian McKellen) falls into a relationship with a wealthy widow (Helen Mirren).
The story of a con-man entering into a relationship with a wealthy woman has been done a number of times in the past. However, possibly not quite with the charm of Ian McKellen – sporting a cracking tash – and Helen Mirren. The two veteran British actors are on the top of their game in Bill Condon’s latest – The Good Liar. McKellen plays the suave, polite and charming Roy Courtnay. While you could easily be led to believe that he’s much alike to your own granddad Roy hides behind a thick veil of secrecy. Happening to be an at-large con-man, swindling hundreds of thousands of pounds out of the most unwitting people, a number of them through dating websites. Which is where he meets Betty (Helen Mirren) a recently widowed grandmother who happens to be sitting on a multi-million fortune. It’s not long until she welcomes Roy into her home and opens up her life to him, despite the mistrust of her grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey).
As the pair get closer more of Roy’s crimes and various outside activities are revealed, to the audience at least. Along with his accomplice Vincent (Jim Carter) he tricks people into investing high levels of money into a joint account, saying that in a short amount of time the value will vastly increase, before taking it all and sharing it, in varying amounts, between the group. However, amongst all this the central relationship that makes up the majority of the film is relatively simple. There’s something about the simplicity that creates a comfortable nature, pushed by the charisma of the two leads, both giving truly brilliant performances, one that invites the viewer in, especially as it seems that Roy begins to form a genuine connection with Betty. One which threatens his criminal workings as much of his actions begin to catch up with him in the busy London streets.
In many ways there’s something about The Good Liar that works and clicks. Leading to a sophisticated and slightly layered film that moves quickly in a truly engrossing way. Capturing the viewer’s imagination and bringing them along for the ride, that some might brand as a thriller – despite the minimal, yet effective when appearing, use of action and overall thrills. This is very much a relatively laid-back thriller where the main sense of excitement or tension comes from a simple discussion, or someone being found out for who they truly are.
For much of the run-time the film rattles along almost perfectly. Only beginning to come off its track and truly show its conventions in the final 20 minutes, as the reveals – which gradually become rather predictable – are made clear. While the performances remain strong the writing not so much. The charm and sophisticated nature seems to be immediately dropped in exchange for drawn-out cliche, in what ends up being a rather lengthy final stage. There are still enjoyable elements, as already mentioned, but the flaws begin to shine as the film gradually comes to a close and the unpredictability of the central relationship wears away – which was much of what made the film so great in the first place.
The Good Liar may very well be one of the best, most charming, British films of the year, with McKellen and Mirren giving two top level performances, and it could be one of the best films of the year in general if it wasn’t for the drawn-out and cliched final 20 minutes.