“The Good Liar” is not only a great film but a taut thriller and it would take a good liar to tell you otherwise. It’s suspenseful, well executed, well crafted and a meticulously appointed piece of work. For the first time it gives us the rare chance to see two of cinema’s legends, Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren square off for two hours. Director Bill Condon directs his best film in years, that is a homage to a tightly wound tale of deception worthy of Alfred Hitchcock.
“The Good Liar” is the exact kind of movie where staying away from any marketing (especially trailers) and any friends who like to spoil movies are a requirement. Knowing the outline to the films plot or if you did happen to see the films trailer, it’s obvious that there is some sort of twist that will be revealed in the climax. Based on the book by Nicolas Searle and adapted to the screen by Jeffrey Hatcher, “The Good Liar” is a story you won’t be able to guess what it is, no matter how closely you watch it or try to piece it together.
It’s nice when a movie surprises you, making an unexpected twist is only effective if it’s actually unexpected, like M Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense”. When you expect and know a reveal is coming in the third act, it can still work. In those cases, it’s good to give your audience enough clues and misdirections so that they can have plausible theories that will be hopefully wrong. “The Good Liar” has one of those, that they are left with something they can’t figure out ahead of time.
The maestro and mastermind behind the camera is director Bill Condon, who is back in top form after a string of mediocre films. “The Good Liar” is his best work since directing, the Oscar nominated “Dreamgirls”. Condon adopts a Hitchcockian-style thriller, while letting his film be a total showcase for it’s two masterful stars: Helen Mirren and an especially great Ian McKellen (who makes up for his disastrous role in “Cats”). Condon does throw in some unexpected flourishes of style into the picture.
Much of the marketing for “The Good Liar” emphasizes on its leads, co starring side by side together. While what fuels the film is the crackling storytelling, but so is the fact of the star power of Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren. Both of these screen stars, believe it or not hadn’t acted opposite each other on-screen up to this point. How is that possible?!
Ian McKellen is clearly having so much fun and while it’s his first time opposite Helen Mirren. It’s not the first time for McKellen and director Bill Condon whom he has worked with three time prior in “Gods & Monsters”, “Beauty & The Beast”, and “Mr. Holmes”. This is a departure for McKellen, who gets to play a real scumbag. McKellen expertly switching between the doddering persona Roy uses with Betty and his sinister true self with ease. It’s great to see that at eighty years old, McKellen contributes one of the most playful performances of his career, in this smart and twisty thriller.
It helps that he has world class actress Helen Mirren is by his side. Mirren is nuanced, playing her character Betty as naive with an underlying edge. Both Mirren and McKellen’s back and forth is rather delicious, where the pair also have created great chemistry together. Their romantic interest is more based on companionship than desire or sex. It makes the relationship more believable, as seeing how the two older people who have been married for years recently have had their partners pass on, that they would want stability over passion.
McKellen and Mirren are at their absolute best here. It’s a shame that McKellen was looked over in not just the Oscars but all of the other ceremonies this year. While this is McKellen and Mirren’s show, the supporting cast here is wonderful especially Jim Carter (“Downton Abbey”) who is playing completely against type, as McKellen’s fellow-con. Russell Tovey plays Mirren’s suspicious grandson, who’s frustrated by the fact that his beloved granny is falling for Roy so quickly. Tovey holds his own very well between the two heavyweight leads.
The direction by Bill Condon is one of his best works. This is Condon at his most violent since 1995’s “Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh”. Here he is in “The Good Liar” and Condon’s use of violence is smart and in one sequence in particular explosive. A confrontation between Roy and one of his victims, in the subway leads to a violent altercation that shows what a credible threat Roy is despite his age, and the end result isn’t pretty.
Condon keeps its twists and turns tight at all times, by heightening the tension in very subtle ways. The things each character says, or the gestures they make, or even a glance. All of these things come together and make no mistake…it is a whole lot of fun.
The film is suspenseful, executed, well-crafted and a meticulously appointed piece of work. So much so that a great deal of attention has been paid to so much detail in every scene, from the precise and measured dialogue to the artwork on the walls that offer subtle hints about what lies ahead. Not to forget it gives us the rare chance to see two of cinema’s legends square off for two hours in a homage to a tightly wound tale of deception worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. “The Good Liar” is not only a great film but a taut thriller and it would take a good liar to tell you otherwise.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)