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The Good Liar (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The Good Liar


Starring Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter, Mark Lewis Jones, Céline Buckens, Nell Williams, Phil Dunster, Laurie Davidson, Jóhannes Kaukur Jóhannesson, Patrick Godfrey, Lily Dodsworth-Evans, Michael Culkin, Bessie Carter, Athena Strates, Aleksandar Jovanovic, Dino Kelly, Ruth Horrocks and Stefan Kalipha.

Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher.

Directed by Bill Condon.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 109 minutes. Rated R.

A movie starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. Really, how can you go wrong? Two of the greatest actors in British cinema working together for the first time ever? It is worth seeing The Good Liar for that reason alone.

While The Good Liar is probably not as good as its starring duo, it’s still pretty darned good.

The Good Liar is also a very old-fashioned film – even in the era of internet banking and online dating – as can be told by the opening credits which are designed to appear to be created by a typewriter, complete with the key taps and ding sound effects.

Remember typewriters? Will Roy (McKellen) and Betty (Mirren), two elderly British widows, do. However, The Good Liar opens with them experimenting with more modern technology – an internet senior dating site – in which they good-naturedly stretch the truth (or out and out lie) for a chance for true love in their twilight years.

Fast forward to their first date, where it quickly becomes obvious that all is not what it seems. They quickly admit to their little fibs – including both giving false names – but it has the audience wondering what the deal is. (The film is called The Good Liar, so we do have some clue.) Are these two people looking for love or companionship in their later years, or is there something more nefarious going on?

So, what do we know about them? Or rather, what do we think we know?

Betty is a widowed former Oxford professor. She is sweet, slightly naïve but also smart and intuitive. She lives in a bland home in a bland London suburb. She’s willing to open herself up to a new man, but she is not a fool.

Roy is the epitome of old-school British charm, a rumpled tweedy man who is mannerly, a bit absent minded, a little repressed, but thoughtful and sweet. He has cut himself off from his own emotions, but they do have a tendency to sneak back in. He is also, we quickly learn, a con man, in the middle of an elaborate scam involving some local businessmen, Russian toughs and offshore banking.

And he appears to have his sights set on Betty’s nest egg as his next conquest.

The thing is, though, while Betty seems open to his advances and somewhat trusting, she also often seems to recognize that something is going on. What, really is her part in this?

It turns out that the con game is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of this plot. Their relationship goes much deeper than originally thought – over many years – and what starts off as a film about a guy trying to fleece an older woman of her savings turns into something much darker and more devious.

I won’t tell you how that plays out, because that would spoil the whole thing. I will just give you this one hint – these two originally met as youngsters during World War II – a fact that only one of them realizes.

The Good Liar tells an elaborate story – one that strains credibility occasionally but is also entertaining and intriguing.

However, the acting tango done by McKellen and Mirren more than lives up to expectations. For that simple fact alone, The Good Liar is well worth seeing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: November 15, 2019.

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