In truth, ‘The Good Liar’ is an en­joy­able Mir­ren and McKellen who­dun­nit

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Gre­gory Wake­man

The Good Liar

Direc­tor: Bill Con­don

Stars: He­len Mir­ren, Ian McKellen

As a crime mys­tery thriller with shades of a who­dun­nit thrown in for good mea­sure, au­di­ences will al­ways be well aware that The Good Liar is hid­ing some­thing in­te­gral from them. Es­pe­cially as it wastes no time in re­veal­ing quite how de­ceit­ful Sir Ian McKellen’s ca­reer con artist Roy Court­nay is.

The Good Liar does ex­actly that in its sec­ond scene, which shows Court­nay hard at work on a de­vi­ous plot to swin­dle hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds out of some Rus­sians.

This comes im­me­di­ately af­ter he has fin­ished his first date with widow Betty McLeish (Dame He­len Mir­ren), who he had pre­vi­ously met on an on­line dat­ing ser­vice. So when Court­nay learns that McLeish is a mil­lion­aire, he looks to worm his way into her life, even mov­ing into her bun­ga­low, as he hatches a plan to take all of her money for him­self.

This is much to the cha­grin of Steven (Rus­sell Tovey), McLeish’s grand­son, who is in­cred­i­bly suspicious of Court­nay. Un­for­tu­nately, this serves only to bring the age­ing duo closer, while Court­nay’s fel­low con man Vin­cent, played by the al­ways im­pres­sive Jim Carter, as­sists his part­ner in con­vinc­ing McLeish to trust him.

In lesser hands, The Good Liar could have eas­ily and quickly be­come te­dious, as keep­ing cer­tain de­tails hid­den from the au­di­ence while si­mul­ta­ne­ously entertaini­ng and thrilling them is a tightrope that’s hard to mas­ter. The Good Liar avoids delv­ing into dull­ness, though, thanks to Jef­frey Hatcher’s tan­ta­lis­ing script, which al­ways man­ages to hook you in when the plot might be be­com­ing too pre­dictable, and Bill Con­don’s sturdy, al­beit some­what un­re­mark­able, di­rec­tion.

Far from that be­ing an in­sult, Con­don is well aware that his di­rec­tion doesn’t need to be showy. That’s be­cause, in Mir­ren and McKellen, he has two of the finest ac­tors of their gen­er­a­tion to con­trol, guide and mes­merise view­ers, which they do with the sub­tlety and sleight of hand of a ma­gi­cian.

This ac­tu­ally marks the third time Con­don has di­rected McKellen, as he pre­vi­ously over­saw his Os­carnom­i­nated turn in 1998’s Gods and Mon­sters as well as 2015’s des­per­ately un­der­rated Mr Holmes, which also hap­pens to be writ­ten by Hatcher.

Court­nay is much more street­wise and das­tardly than McKellen’s char­ac­ters in ei­ther of th­ese films, and The Good Liar gives the th­es­pian am­ple op­por­tu­nity to play a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent moods and per­son­al­i­ties. Un­sur­pris­ingly, he goes from vul­ner­a­ble to charis­matic to gen­uinely men­ac­ing with­out miss­ing a beat.

Not only does McKellen de­liver each with aplomb, but he’s also ob­vi­ously hav­ing a stu­pen­dous time do­ing so. That be­comes es­pe­cially true as The Good Liar pro­gresses, as McKellen be­comes both in­creas­ingly sin­is­ter, but also more and more watch­able.

This is far from only McKellen’s movie, though, as he has an ex­pert on-screen spar­ring part­ner in Mir­ren. The Academy Award-win­ning ac­tress is pitch-per­fect through­out, as McLeish’s ap­par­ent frail­ness and naivety is al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by an ob­vi­ous wit and sharp­ness that keeps her char­ac­ter shrouded in mys­tery.

While Mir­ren and McKellen pre­vi­ously did the play Dance of Death on Broad­way to­gether, which earned Mir­ren a Tony Award nomination,

The Good Liar is the first film in which the old friends have starred along­side each other. That feels wrong, and clearly the pair wanted to use The Good Liar to make up for lost time and other missed op­por­tu­ni­ties. Not only does ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment they’re to­gether on-screen feel elec­tric, but they also make sure to add a nuance and un­cer­tainty that only makes the mys­tery more in­trigu­ing.

That brings us to the end­ing, the de­tails of which will be avoided so that you can fully en­joy The Good Liar.

De­spite all of the pos­i­tives men­tioned above, The Good Liar un­folds at such a pace and in such an ob­vi­ous man­ner that it is al­ways re­ly­ing on its fi­nale, and the rev­e­la­tion it is ob­vi­ously hid­ing, to make it gen­uinely worth­while. So when its con­clu­sion be­gins, you can’t help but feel a lit­tle un­der­whelmed. The re­main­ing min­utes of the movie, though, sud­denly swerve from the seem­ingly ridicu­lous to be­ing both poignant and pre­scient, while Con­don even finds time for a thought-pro­vok­ing de­noue­ment that wraps things up nicely, too.

Sure, within this con­clu­sion there are a num­ber of plot-holes that will prob­a­bly un­der­mine the rest of the movie if you dwell on them, but there’s more than enough depth and emo­tion to pa­per over those cracks. Plus, even Roy Court­nay wouldn’t com­mit the crime of fo­cus­ing on th­ese mi­nor foibles when there’s the chance to cel­e­brate both Mir­ren and McKellen be­ing in such im­pe­ri­ous form.

Warner Bros

He­len Mir­ren and Ian McKellen, top, star with Rus­sell Tovey

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