The Good Liar

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Good Liar
dir Bill Condon
scr Jeffrey Hatcher
prd Bill Condon, Greg Yolen
with Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter, Mark Lewis Jones, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Laurie Davidson, Phil Dunster, Spike White, Nell Williams, Dino Kelly, Aleksandar Jovanovic
release UK 8.Nov.19,
US 15.Nov.19
19/UK New Line 1h49

mckkellen tovey carter

mckellen, mirren, tovey
Enjoyably twisty, this sparky con-artist thriller holds the interest through the sheer charisma of its stars, plus some clever direction by Bill Condon. The script may not quite hold water, but it's loaded with insinuating dialog and playful interaction. So while there's never a question that another shoe is surely going to drop, it's fun to hang on for the ride.
Using online dating, Roy and Betty (McKellen and Mirren) decide to see each other again after their first date goes so well. But Roy is actually a grifter, working with Vincent (Carter) on big-scale scams, and Betty is their next target. Her grandson Steven (Tovey) suspects something is up, especially when Roy's dodgy knee sees him move into Betty's spare room. Eventually, Steven overcomes his reservations and surprises them when they visit Berlin on a holiday. While there, Roy's past comes back to haunt him, with questions about his post-war role in British intelligence.
This is of course just the tip of the iceberg, and revelations and secrets are sprinkled all over the story, straining logic almost to the breaking point. A flurry of flashbacks keep things from being too obvious, even if each rug-pulling moment feels like it arrives right on cue. And even if some of the dialog boggles the mind as characters contradict themselves mid-explanation (maybe they're not such good liars after all). In the end there's a nagging sense that the plot wouldn't hold water. But it's still entertaining.

McKellen and Mirren have such twinkling energy that they can't help but carry us through pretty much anything the plot throws at us. Both are lively, funny and even sexy as they layer their words with the suggestion that nothing is quite what it seems. Tovey and Carter provide terrific support along the way, as do an ensemble of shady figures, plus the lively younger actors (Davidson, Dunster, White and Williams) who appear in two earlier timelines.

Where all of this goes is rather irrelevant, as there are no larger themes at work, aside from back-story that gets nastier with each added detail. And the vast sums of cash involved kind of leave the central plot feeling pointless. So whether the right people pay for their wrongs is for the audience to decide, although writer Hatcher (and perhaps novelist Nicholas Searle) come down forcefully with their own moral hammer. With a bit more ambiguity, this could have been a minor gem.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Nov.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall