The Good Liar Review

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It is rather baffling that it has taken this long for Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren to share the silver screen together, however, as the saying goes – better late than never. The Good Liar sees McKellen reunite with director Bill Condon for their fourth collaboration following 1998’s Gods and Monsters, 2015’s Mr Holmes and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. The film is adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by former British intelligence officer Nicholas Searle. As the film’s title suggests, both McKellen and Mirren portray characters to whom there is aptly more than meets the eye. For charming, career con artist Roy Courtnay (McKellen), lying has become a way of life and as he meets wealthy widow Betty McLeish, he begins to plan how to steal her fortune.

Both McKellen and Mirren own their parts masterfully, their chemistry does not waver for a single moment and quite frankly, they do their best with what they’ve been given. McKellen in particular is an absolute delight, it’s obvious within his performance that he devours every moment with this character, not having had such a devilish and juicy part in quite a while. Back in 2006, he portrayed another deceitful figure as Sir Leigh Teabing in Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, however, in The Good Liar, Condon grants McKellen the opportunity to fully embellish such a persona.

The film’s first half struggles to find and cement a consistent tone. It trods along smoothly at a relatively slow pace, establishing the lives that Roy and Betty lead as well as their initial interactions. There are questionable moments where Condon’s direction makes the film feel like a Hallmark TV movie and even Carter Burwell’s score substantiates this, where one can’t help but feel like they’re watching an episode of ITV’s Midsomer Murders. The few abrupt flashes of violence are not only effectively surprising but also rather jarring when contrasted with the predominant cosiness that foregrounds the film.

When the inevitable twists are unleashed, the film becomes a different kind of monster. Condon throws plenty of disturbing and repulsive moments at us and it hence becomes quite an unsettling experience. The film becomes driven with a terrific energy and the duel between McKellen and Mirren is captivating and compelling. It’s just a pity that the film doesn’t sustain this tone and energy for its whole duration as well as fully exploring the deep rooted vices of its characters.

Nevertheless, there is plenty in this mystery thriller for audiences to latch onto because it’s far more daring and ambitious than it may seem to be.