FILM REVIEW – THE GOOD LIAR. With Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Bill Carter, Russell Tovey, Mark Lewis Jones. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Bill Condon. Rated R for some strong violence, and for language and brief nudity. 109 minutes.
There are two reasons to see THE GOOD LIAR. First is the plot about which, going in, you should know as little about as possible. This is one of those movies in which if you do know at least some of the twists going in – and there are several of them – then it will significantly diminish your enjoyment. Even if you anticipate what will happen, it’s the not-knowing that provides the pleasure, along with some plot turns that you’re unlikely to anticipate.
The story is about two widowers who meet on a computer dating site in England. Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) is a con artist – we know this right from the start – whose designs on Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) makes it clear his goal is a financial score. She’s a stunning older woman (in costumes designed by potential Oscar nominee Keith Madden) who has a large bank account and whose only son has pre-deceased her. Her grandson (Russell Tovey) is suspicious of this interloper into their family but can’t immediately prove anything.
The plot is very clever but it’s likely to only work once. What that means is that the film is entertaining but probably won’t stand up to a second viewing. That’s not a flaw, but it does mean that what the film offers are immediate pleasures and not something likely to stand the test of time (or at least the kind of repeat theatrical viewings that can mean the difference between a movie being a modest hit and a considerable one).
What may lift the movie beyond that is the casting of McKellen and Mirren as the two leads. At 80 and 74 respectively, it’s unusual to see seniors in leading roles outside of movies about “old” people. Both are tremendous talents, which means that even if you anticipate one or more of the film’s surprises it doesn’t really matter since there’s great entertainment value in watching these two veterans show how it’s done. Both have had much greater and serious roles, but they do not condescend to their roles here. They take their parts as seriously as is required.
Director Bill Condon has done serious films and helmed projects where the focus was primarily on entertainment. “The Good Liar” is more the latter than the former yet doesn’t want to insult the intelligence of the audience. If you come in looking to enjoy the surprises without worrying if it is a film for the ages, then you will find a satisfying diversion even if you can’t remember whether you saw it months from now.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.