The Good Liar

Jacob Richardson | 5/12/2019

A serviceable, if highly predictable, tale of intrigue; anchored in the performances of two fine actors.


Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellan) thinks he is the luckiest con-artist in the world when he meets widow Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) online - for Betty is wealthy and surprisingly open to his advances. Despite the insistence of her grandson Stephen (Russell Tovey), Betty opens her life and home to Roy, and Roy too is surprised to find himself caring about Betty. But that is only the start in a series of twists and turns that make what should have been an easy swindle for Roy into one of the most treacherous adventures of his life; one that drags his murky past up from the deep. 


Directed by Bill Condon, The Good Liar frequently struggles to bust out of the realm of ‘serviceable’. From a visual perspective, the cinematography and staging here is perfectly fine, but also perfectly disinteresting. The soundtrack, too, mimics this feeling of ‘meh’. Most egregiously, however, is the location of this sense of discontent with the plot itself. 


The story of The Good Liar undoubtedly weaves its way back and forth through a series of surprises. Or, what should be surprises. Indeed, towards the end Condon delivers a two-hander scene with Roy and Betty that should have the audience gasping in exclamation at all of the pieces of the puzzle slotting together. Alas, this is not to be. Like a well-lit and frequently traversed highway, stretching on for miles in a straight line, The Good Liar is as bland and predictable as can be. There are no surprises here, particularly not for a frequent movie going audience, and so any of these big reveals lose their ability to create any emotion in the audience. 


Saving this rote drama from the turgid depths of a Netflix screen are the performances of the two leads. McKellan and Mirren are two of the finest actors working today (or indeed for decades on end), and they seem to absolutely relish the opportunity to (a) play off one another and (b) play off their different character guises. In particular this is evident in McKellan’s portrayal of Roy, as he switches from demure older man in the presence of Betty to an old British gangster ready to beat a Russian’s hand with a meat mallet when he escapes her view for even a second. But no matter how good these two performances are, one wishes that the structure and intrigue of the script had of supported the calibre of performer on display more. 


The Good Liar is fine. Mainly, that is down to Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren. But we’d be lying if we said we thought it was good.