The Good Liar (Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey) – The joy of seeing Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen together bantering on screen isn’t enough to offset the flaws in The Good Liar. Two of the greatest British actors of our time, Mirren and McKellen clearly are having a good time as an older couple courting each other. But there is much beneath the surface.
McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, a con man with a history we learn about in painfully slow ways. Mirren’s character, Betty McLeish, lives well in a very comfortable house on the outskirts of London. They meet online, give each other false names, and create fictional likes and dislikes to obscure their online identities. By the time they meet for a meal, they come clean and proceed to enjoy each other’s company. Or do they? We know that Roy is trying to get to her money. And we sense that she is either terribly naïve or uncannily cagey.
The story seems to be headed toward a predictable climax when Betty agrees to put her money in a joint account with Roy. But is Roy falling in love, and will he go through with the con? It is here, more than hour into the film, that the plot turns abruptly and implausibly. The couple heads on a trip to Berlin where Betty’s grandson, Stephen (Russell Tovey of TV’s Quantico), meets them and takes them to an unexpected place. Suddenly, we see flashbacks that seem out of place. The rest of the movie plays out the con, the relationship of Roy and Betty, and the deceptions afoot. I won’t give more away. Suffice to say, the story seems contrived. It feels like the audience is being deceived. In some ways, it feels like the movie starts again as Mirren’s character becomes the provocateur and McKellen’s the victim.
While the acting is excellent, the story (based on a novel by Nicholas Searle) feels disjointed. I’ll bet the book is way better than the movie. At 109 minutes, it feels very British and, consequently, slow.
It’s not that The Good Liar is a bad film. It is reasonably entertaining. But it just doesn’t do justice to the actors and creates whiplash for the audience.