Cast: Sir Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russel Tovey, Jim Carter
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Nicholas Searle (Novel)
‘The Good Liar’ is at first presented as a con film, with the morally corrupt Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) weaving his way into the life of seemingly-innocent Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), a lonely widow who wishes for love. I will say this now, the many turns and twists of the film are well interwoven into the character arcs of these two, and therefore to truly analyse ‘The Good Liar’ would require giving away some details. Of course, I won’t do this, but rather urge you to see the film for yourself, whilst I attempt to best articulate my thoughts without giving away any of the secrets that the film invites you to unfold.
Though at first a film that seems to explore the loneliness that can come from growing old, we are shown from the trailer that Roy has more villainous reasons to grow close to Betty – to get his hands on the small fortune that she has saved throughout her life. The inauspicious reasons for their meeting is quickly addressed in the opening scenes, and from here the film is able to go on to explore various other themes, such as how the actions of our past can sometimes be what narrates our future. Both children of a generation that grew up in the conflict of World War 2, the connotations of a post-war lifestyle weigh heavily on Betty and Roy’s story. Though this is a film that can entertain all ages, it is clear that the director, Bill Condon, wishes to create a sense of empathy between an elderly viewer and the characters seen on screen, as the fallout from a conflict as great as WWII is entirely personal, and often the greatest comfort for those affected is to be shown that you aren’t alone. This is brilliantly personified by Mirren and McKellen – performers that may at times be unfairly constricted by being seen as figureheads for a certain era of cinema, but show in ‘The Good Liar’ that they can still take on the challenges of modern life, just as the viewer can in their own personal life.
Many have compared ‘The Good Liar’ to a jigsaw puzzle, and I agree with their comparison. The key elements of the story are slowly and surely placed throughout the film, and it isn’t until you take a moment to look back on what is being created, that you begin to interpret the story’s message. That is, of course, until the creators wipe the puzzle off the table in the closing scenes. Though I was drawn in by the final unravelling of the story, I did find that the actual build-up to it was often times slow and lacked significant creative ambition from the director. The music, cinematography and editing were at times basic, with the occasional flair of inspiration drawing audiences back into the story. However, I do understand that this is a film which is largely dependent on the success of the overarching story, as well as the performances of our films leads. Both of these elements were well-delivered, and did justice to the clever articulation of the conclusion.
My other criticism was one which was only partially satisfied within the final act, where was Helen Mirren? Such a prestigious actress as she is, I expected the tension between her and Ian McKellen to be electrifying, especially considering the treacherous surroundings of their relationship. However, throughout most of the film, the creators seemed have been inspired more by the presentation of the performers in ‘Chinatown,’ where the focus is very much on Jack Nicholson as the lead, and rarely strays from their own personal interaction with the events of the plot. Despite this, the scenes where both performers were together on screen felt fairly lacklustre. Save for the conclusion, many of the opportunities for tension within the script were rarely capitalised on, and ultimately left the film devoid of any great feeling of risk or thrill. This I would pinpoint on the actual lines themselves, rather than how they were delivered.
This brings me into my final point – the script. The concept of the film is brilliant, and the way that many of the more audacious events of the film are portrayed is exciting and intriguing, but the script itself really lacks anything unique. There were many opportunities for the relationship between our leads to be developed, but instead the film spends its time over-emphasising clues for later in the story, as well as spending excessive amounts of time ensuring that we understand the character traits of our two leads, when we are already invested because of the status that McKellen and Mirren have as performers within the industry.
To conclude, I do believe that ‘The Good Liar’ is still an important watch, as the elements of the story guide the viewer to an ending which is entirely unexpected. There are some great moments of excitement, but ultimately I don’t believe that Bill Condon contributes anything unique to the world of film in his most recent creation.