The Good Liar, directed by Bill Condon with a screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the novel by Nicholas Searle, is not always perfect in its pacing, with distracting tonal shifts that occasionally pull you out of the moment, but it still manages to keep its secrets close to its chest and just enough to hold your intrigue.
As you’d expected, the success of this comes down to lead actors Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, who play Betty and Roy, respectively. Early on we’re shown that Roy is a con man – with a small gang of fellow career criminals – who has set some kind of plan for his new mark, Betty – a recent rich widower who he meets via an online dating website.
While the setup is an curious one, you always have an expectation that there’s something else at play, mainly because you get a lot of background about Roy but little on Mirren’s Betty. If this was 10-15 years ago, it could be a standard scenario but when you’ve got someone like Mirren on-board, well, it’s clear there’s an undercurrent waiting to pull you under at some point but, of course, when that is… you don’t really know.
Without delving into extreme spoilers, The Good Liar is difficult to breakdown but I think it’s one your parents would enjoy. This isn’t intended to be derisive, but because of McKellen and Mirren and it has all the right hallmarks for a Sunday-night thriller series. In fact, when you have the knowledge this was based on Searle’s novel, you feel like much of the script would have benefited from a wider scope (or mini-series) for everyone’s character over a longer-time period.
Moving back to the positives, as the impressive leading pair, there’s a nice part for the excellent Jim Carter as Roy’s right-hand man, plus it’s good to see Russell Tovey providing another grand performance as Betty’s grandson Steven and, as you’ll notice, he’s an important part of proceedings but saying too much, will give too much. If you’re a fan of the Patricia Highsmith novels, such as The Talented Mr Ripley, I clearly felt an essence of that with mysterious characters and possible two-trick ponies lingering in and around the scenes but The Good Liar overall isn’t quite as sharp or slick as her work.
That being said, this is a decent thriller that manages to keep its deep secrets hiding right up to the finale and, let it be said on a number of set-pieces, they don’t sit back with intense violence (which might be an unusual homage to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds after an early scene), which was a surprise but – again – these odd shifts in tone don’t always hit home and as a result there’s that occasional detachment from the story.
The Good Liar is a pleasant puzzle that’s saved and kept captivating by Mirren and McKellen. Their performances grasp the mystery to keep you guessing and, despite a few cliches thrown in along the way, the film concludes with an unexpectedly modern touch that’s distinct and a fair consequence of the actions gone before it.
Special features: Only the one really but it’s an interesting featurette called ‘A Perfect Match: Inside The Good Liar‘, which talks to the cast and goes on location, with the rest of the extras being deleted scenes.