It’s hard to believe that Sir Ian McKellen (MR. HOLMES; LOTR trilogy; THE HOBBIT trilogy; X-MEN franchise) and Dame Helen Mirren (COLLATERAL BEAUTY; TRUMBO; THE QUEEN) have never appeared in a film together until now. Unfortunately, THE GOOD LIAR goes so far off the rails in the third act that even these two consummate actors can’t keep it from crashing.
It’s 2009, and for reasons other than reminding us that it’s been ten years since INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was in the cinemas, Roy Courtnay (McKellen) and Betty McLeish (Mirren) are busy crafting their personas for an online dating site. They soon meet over dinner in a restaurant and hit it off. He’s a slightly doddering widower who is estranged from his only son; she’s a more recent widower who lost her only son in a tragic accident years earlier. But, as we quickly learn, that’s not quite true. Roy is a con man who, along with his buddy, Vincent (Jim Carter, DOWNTON ABBEY) scams rich people out of their fortunes. Betty, who is a retired history teacher at Oxford, is his next mark. Over the following weeks, the pair gets closer with Roy moving into Betty’s comfortable home in suburban London after faking a knee injury. Needless to say, this does not go down well with Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey, TV’s YEARS AND YEARS), who feels that his grandmother is moving too quickly in the relationship. Betty, though, will hear nothing of it and she starts to make plans to travel with Roy. Roy, meanwhile, suggests to Betty that she may want to consider investing her retirement money with Vincent. She does and when Vincent suggests that she and Roy pool their money into a joint account, Betty’s all in.
If you’ve ever seen a caper film, you know that there’s always a twist that you hopefully didn’t see coming. So it’s not a spoiler to say that in THE GOOD LIAR there is the con that the audience sees and the con that it doesn’t until the big reveal. Here though, it becomes painfully obvious too early on who is zooming who. In the film’s second act, every time Roy turns his head away from Betty, her blissfully naïve grin turns to a frown. She knows he’s a con and we know he’s a con but what’s her game? That answer is revealed in a completely contrived third act that stretches the bounds of credulity to previously unseen limits. The story is based on the novel of the same name by first-time author Nicholas Searle but what may have worked on the written page does not work here. Betty’s motivation for scamming Roy is just not credible, nor is her plan for doing so. As a result, THE GOOD LIAR, even with its masterclass performances by these two august leads, falls far short of what this film could have been.
THE GOOD LIAR is a huge disappointment. Wait for it to come to the small screen.
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