From Bill Condon (director of Mr Holmes and Beauty and The Beast) comes The Good Liar, a dark crime thriller based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle. With an intriguing but weird story, this film walks dangerously close to mediocrity and is only saved by two fantastic performances.
The Good Liar tells the story of Betty McLeish, a wealthy widow who, after losing her husband, meets Roy Courtnay, a seemingly sweet old man with honest intentions. What she doesn’t know is that Roy is actually a thuggish career con-man who specialises in manipulation. When Roy spots his target, he’ll slowly try and deceive her out of her £2million with the help of business partner Vincent, all while trying to avoid detection from Betty’s grandson Steven. The action takes place in London, with a brief trip to Berlin, and offers dark twists and turns at every corner.
The headlining stars in this romp are Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren as Roy and Betty. The two of them are incredible together, and their chemistry is gripping to watch. McKellen is clearly having the time of his life playing a character that can only be described as an utterly irredeemable bastard. His twisting of character between when he’s with Betty and when he’s not is remarkable, and for an 80-year-old actor, his energetic physicality is still breathtaking. Helen Mirren too is undeniably brilliant as the sweet Betty, and plays her with such loving innocence it makes Roy’s deceptions all the worse to watch. Jim Carter also stars as Roy’s business partner Vincent, and Russell Tovey plays Betty’s protective grandson Steven.
One thing to mention is that the score for this film, composed by Carter Burwell (composer of an all-time favourite score of mine, ‘In Bruges’) is wonderfully mysterious. The melodies weave in and out of the film, and the subtle piano and woodwinds blend beautifully with dramatic timpani’s and string sections.
The issue with this film is that it’s tonally all over the place. In parts, the film is a sweet character comedy about two old people living in a home for the elderly. However, these scenes are contrasted by incredibly dark themes of murder and rape, and one particular scene involving a death by underground train. The story, while interesting, gets a little too convoluted, and a scene in the middle of the film is clearly there to set up a narrative that should have been better foreshadowed from the beginning. By crowbarring this twist half way through, it breaks the tense momentum and clearly sets up a finale that is only unpredictable because it’s also incredibly unlikely.
Overall, The Good Liar is a great Sunday afternoon thriller, provided you can stomach sudden bouts of severe violence. The story is convoluted and the tone of the film shifts far too dramatically considering the age demographic this film is most likely aiming for. However, the film is redeemed by two stellar performers from seasoned professionals, and it is these two that makes the film worthy of your time.