The Good Liar

Two of the great thesps of the age in a single movie. Yes please!

What’s The Movie? The Good Liar

What’s It All About, JG? Roy (Ian McKellen) is an ageing con-man, who alongside his business partner Vincent bilks gullible/vulnerable investors out of money for reasons which on Roy’s behalf appear to be little more than “because he enjoys it”. He comes into the orbit of Betty (Helen Mirren) via an on-line dating site and he prepares to run the sting once more having discovered that Betty is both widowed and really rather well off. He gradually inveigles his way into her life and eventually her house, despite the clear disapproval of Betty’s grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey, turning up to do That Thing Russell Tovey Does).

Things are never quite that straightforward though, and it turns out Roy is in fact a German World War II survivor who assumed the identity of an English soldier he was a translator for – the “real” Roy died in the war and this Roy was in fact Hans Taub who took Roy’s identity, fled to England and started anew, his first con. Betty accepts this at face value and they decide to join finances over the objections of Steven. Roy prepares to flee with the Betty’s money but she steals his Magic Finance Keypad ™ and reveals that in fact the two have met before – Betty’s real name is Lili, and during the war Roy raped her after an humiliating encounter with Lili’s sisters, then denounced her father as a traitor leading to his execution. Vincent has betrayed Roy having become unhappy with Roy’s ruthlessness, and Lili has cleaned him out in revenge for what Roy did during the war. The movie ends with Lili getting her money, surrounded by loving family while Roy is reduced to a shell of a man after getting beaten up by two people he previously cheated. Finally, justice is served.

Why Did You Give It A Go? It’s Ian McKellen. And Helen Mirren. In the same movie. Why wouldn’t you give it a go?

Is It Any Good? Basically, yes. The first and most obvious thing to say about The Good Liar is that it very clearly exists as a reason to put McKellen and Mirren in the same movie together and just see what happens and surprise surprise what happens is that we get two of the best actors of their generation twinkling their way through a couple of hours in the most delightful fashion. McKellen plays a great cad, and the tension between wanting to like the character because of who’s playing him and the clearly despicable nature of the character himself is very well balanced. His performance – by far the largest role of the two stars – is full of affected dodderiness as Roy does his best to insert himself into Betty’s blandly suburban life but he has, of course, no problem dropping the charade when the gig’s up. Mirren is a class act, naturally, and her finest moments come at the denouement as she reveals exactly what’s been going on the whole time. Every line is delivered almost off-handedly but falls like a hammer blow, especially as she takes £50,000 out of their joint account every time Roy lies to her. It’s a sharp but lightly delivered conceit that benefits from casting Mirren fractionally against type – charming, yes, but every bit as ruthless as her adversary. If there’s a problem it’s that – just occasionally – Mirren struggles to turn down her natural on-screen charisma to make Betty appear genuinely vulnerable prior to The Big Reveal, but it’s a very minor and rare misstep when it occurs. But for these two alone the film is absolutely worth seeing. The rest of the cast are fine – most notable is Downton Abbey alum Jim Carter as Vincent, but really the other characters are only there to prop up the central two, which they do just fine.

 How Many Of These Have You Watched? Well, plenty of movies starring both McKellen and Mirren, unsurprisingly, thought regrettably I’ve not seen either of them on stage.

Would You Recommend It? Yes, but with an important caveat. The marketing for this movie really plays up the “ZOMG TWISTZZZZ!!!?!?!” angle, which is deeply unfortunate because it ends up being really rather misleading. This is a smartly constructed movie and there are two big twists (namely, Roy being revealed as Hans midway through the movie, then Betty being Lili and knowing what was going on the whole time at the end), but the twists aren’t ultimately the point of the exercise. The point is seeing McKellen and Mirren turn in grown-up performances that – away from wizards and fast cars – show off what skilled performers these two still are. And they really are! It’s a simple pleasure to watch two brilliant actors torpedo their way through a script like this, and the feel of the movie is strikingly old-fashioned (even the movie poster looks like it could have come from the 40’s), but that pleasure is what the film is for. You feel satisfaction as Roy gets his comeuppance because McKellan has been so great at playing the cad. You feel happy that Lili finally finds her justice, however late in the day, because Mirren makes the character so smartly appealing. The mechanisms by which we get there are fundamentally less important than the strength of performances that lie behind them. Sure, you can quibble about a few of the plot logistics – particularly whether Lili was counting on Vincent’s betrayal, something she couldn’t have predicted – and if you want to say the film veers a little too far into melodrama with Lili racing back to Berlin to find a locket hidden under the floorboards of her former house containing a lock of hair so she can match it with hair clippings of the current Roy to provide his identity, well you wouldn’t exactly be wide of the mark. But the acting is more that enough to cover any minor shortfalls in scripting and this remains a wholly entertaining slice old-school cinema with two lead performances that are never less than magnetic. Thoroughly watchable.

Scores On The Doors? 7.5/10 Or maybe 8/10 if you happen to have a couple of nice glasses of port and want to curl up in front of a real fire on a cold winter’s day to watch it, which I feel may be the ideal way.

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