The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle was on my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. It sounded like a really interesting story and, according to reports, had a really great twist. I gave it a chance but wasn’t exactly wowed by it. I thought that the twist was pretty obvious and I just wasn’t a fan of Searle’s writing. So, you may be asking, why was I in such a rush to see the film? Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, of course. I guess I was also interested to see how the story worked on screen. Maybe the story of an elderly con artist and his naive victim would come together in this way? Or maybe it would be just as tragic and awful as King of Thieves? Boy, cinema doesn’t really do much for older men. Don’t get me wrong, women have it way worse but old men don’t have it easy either.
It’s easy to forget that Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen are only 6 years apart in age. No offence to Sir Ian but Dame Helen is still looking great. When I first found out about this film, I didn’t understand how the pair would work together. There wasn’t that much of an age difference between the characters in the book, after all. But, it’s just like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I was all ready to get angry about them always being cast as a couple but the age difference is only about 8 years. Emma Stone just looks about 10 years younger than she actually is. She’s the Helen Mirren of 30-somethings.
In The Good Liar, Mirren plays Betty McLeish, a widow trying to find companionship on the internet. She meets Roy Courtnay who seems like the perfect gentleman. He says all the right things and treats her well. Little does Betty know that Roy is con-artist who has been using the dating app to scope out his next victims. Bettys has a lot of money and Roy plans to take everything. Unfortunately for Ron, Betty’s grandson (Russell Tovey) is suspicious of the new man in his grandmother’s life. He starts looking into Ron’s history and finds some interesting things. Will he be able to convince Betty before it’s too late?
Straight off the bat, both Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen are fantastic actors. When they are on screen (whether together or not) the film really gets going They bring so much to the story and it’s fun to see them going head-to-head. McKellen really gets his teeth into Ron and shows a real vicious side when he needs to. Mirren, too, is on great form here and manages to give Betty a lot of depth. As the film goes on it becomes clear that there is more to Betty than we first thought. She is naive, yes, but with a certain amount of shrewdness. They are both wonderful to watch and this story lets them have a lot of fun. Maybe it’s just because I knew where this going but I enjoyed the subtle hints that the pair brought to their roles.
The pair are so good together that the film really does suffer when they aren’t on-screen. The film flashes back every now and then but it never really hits the same heights. It would have been fun to see what this film could have been like had it just been a head-to-head between two acting titans. I mean, it’s not as if the rest is all bad. Russell Tovey is a good addition as Betty’s grandson and it’s always fun to see Jim Carter in roles outside Downton Abbey. Still, there are parts of this film that I could have done without in favour of more Mirren/McKellen time. If the film hadn’t tried to be so faithful to the book it could have been something wonderful.
Is this the greatest film about a con artist ever made? No. Will it really shock and surprise you? Doubtful. But is it worth a watch? Yes, if you enjoy watching two great actors have a whale of a time facing up to one another. I just wish it could have had enough self-awareness to just let them do it.