Ian McKellen reunites with director Bill Condon but the end result is, sadly, no Mr. Holmes. McKellen plays con-man Roy Courtnay, who manipulates his way into a relationship with the widowed Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren).
This is McKellen and Mirren’s first feature film collaboration and it’s certainly nice to see these beloved and incredibly talented actors share the screen.
McKellen gets more to do, alternating between the charming geezer persona he’s using to worm his way into Betty’s life and the ruthless, violent con-man he truly is. He certainly has the range to pull it off, and going back and forth between twee Britishisms and swearing a whole bunch never really stops being funny.
Roy happens to be working another con on the side, which isn’t going quite as smoothly as one would like – and there’s also the matter of Betty’s grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), who is suspicious of Roy’s motives.
This is the setup for a good deal of the movie – Roy trying to work around Steven to get closer to Betty, while also trying to stay on top of the other con. Could he also be developing genuine feelings for this woman? Has Betty melted the cold heart of this cruel man?
It’s decent and pleasant enough, moving along at a comfortable pace and benefitting greatly from McKellen and Mirren’s talent and presence.
Then the ending comes along and the movie just completely falls apart. Here’s the thing – when you walk into a movie about cons and con-men, a movie that literally has the word ‘liar’ in its title, you’re expecting a twist, right?
Unless The Good Liar is literally the first film you’ve ever seen, you’re almost certainly waiting for the big reveal, the shocking revelation that turns everything you thought you knew about the story on its head.
The Good Liar‘s big twist falls flat on its ass for two reasons. One, it’s the most obvious, most straightforward twist this story could have. I guess I should technically put a spoiler warning here, but I’m sorry, revealing that the Liar was being lied to the whole time is laughably predictable.
Two, the real kicker of the ending is supposed to be not the twist itself, but the motive – except The Good Liar now needs a lengthy flashback and a giant exposition dump to introduce a connection between Roy and Betty that was never even hinted at up to that point.
Betty has deeply personal reasons for her trickery and they are completely undermined by the utterly inept way in which they’re explained to the audience.
It’s the double whammy of a twist everyone could see coming with an explanation that no one could have possibly guessed. You feel both cheated and underwhelmed.
Let’s not even get into the fact that Betty’s plan doesn’t make much sense if you actually think about it. In all honesty, even good con movies can often suffer from this – but they can make you willfully ignore stuff like that. They suck you in with the excitement and thrills of a brilliant caper.
The Good Liar never comes close. Do yourself a favor – sit this one out and wait for Knives Out.
The Good Liar is out in cinemas now.