The Good Liar
The Good Liar (2019) movie review
The Good Liar, based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, follows an older con man, Roy Courtnay, as he gets more than he bargained for when he tries to swindle lovely widow Betty McLeish out of millions. Starring Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren in the lead roles, the film opened last weekend to mediocre reviews, with a 6.5 on IMDb and 55 on Metascore.
As far as the acting goes, McKellen and Mirren are both great. This is a very different role for McKellen and is one I personally did not enjoy seeing him in, but that’s because I am still used to seeing him as Gandalf and this is a far cry from the friendly wizard role. That said, he does a great job, so that’s not a complaint about him or the casting choice, just my bias because he is not a good person in this film and, while I wasn’t expecting him to be, he is a worse character than I went in expecting him to be. He plays it off very well, however, and his and Mirren’s performances are by far the highlight of the film. Mirren is just as enjoyable to watch, playing the innocent yet not ignorant older woman very well and finding an excellent balance between the two that really works for what the film is going for. Neither are “good” people however, so it is tough for me to get past that and completely enjoy the film when there is not really a person that it feels like you should be rooting for. While others may not necessarily have a problem with that, I think it is a problem that stems from the larger issue here: the story.
I know I’ve been getting on the story for a lot of these reviews now, but I think that it has been a common denominator as to why a couple of recent movies are disappointing at the box office. Now, not knowing anything about the book and in the interest of not spoiling the movie, there is not much I can actually say here about the story. Essentially, the movie starts out setting up your expectations for one thing, and then about two-thirds of the way through, it takes a different turn and flips those expectations around, becoming almost a completely different movie in terms of the story and tone, throwing a twist at you that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming unless you’ve read the book or already spoiled the movie for yourself. This is because it stems from information that the film simply doesn’t give you until it deems it relevant. Basically, the film is not what I went in expecting, nor was it the type of movie I enjoy watching, and while the latter is not the film’s fault, I think that it could have benefitted from setting up the proper expectations earlier and slowly providing relevant information throughout, instead of just throwing a bunch of information at you near the end. This also could have helped balance the pacing, which I found lacking in several places. The film spends a while on introductions, particularly for Courtnay’s life and how he runs his cons, and never really picks up the pace. It is a slow drama that suddenly becomes a thriller, and I lost interest pretty early on because I simply got tired of just watching McKellen be a bad person. I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never really does until the end, and by then it is a bit too late because I didn’t really care about the characters anymore.
Other than the story and the acting, nothing in particular stood out, good or bad. Actually, the choreography does deserve a nod, as the fights and interactions between all the characters looks and feels genuine, which does help to create the tone that the film is going for. Besides that, the cinematography is good but there is nothing notable in any of the shots, and the same goes for the editing and the music. The technical elements all work together to create the overall feel of the film and add to its aesthetic, but they are nothing really memorable or new.
Honestly, I did not enjoy the film. If I get the chance, maybe I’ll read the book and write a comparison review, just to see if putting it in that perspective makes a difference. But even if it does, the movie shouldn’t depend on its audience having read the book in order to enjoy it. I do not enjoy films where instead of building up to something they just give you all the information at once near the end, even if they do it because you are supposed to figure it out when the main character does. There are still ways to subtly build up to it, and one thing I think this film could have done better was focus a bit more on Mirren’s character early on, instead of simply choosing to focus on McKellen. Doing that could have also helped balance the pacing, which was slow and fairly uneventful for the majority of the film. The bottom line? Aside from the acting, there is not much I found enjoyable or memorable. I don’t think the story works that well, or at least it isn’t portrayed very well, the pacing is off, and there is nothing else there to really help carry the film. If you love McKellen and Mirren and don’t mind seeing them in roles where they are not necessarily people you can root for, or if you just like movies that turn your expectations around and have a twist and don’t care how it is presented, you will probably have a better time with this one than I did. And hey, if you have read the book and want to see or already saw the movie, let us know if you want to write a comparison review in the comments below! 5/10.
So The Good Liar? Have you seen it? What did you think? Have you read the book? And what is your all-time favorite Ian McKellen performance or Hellen Mirren performance? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know!
-review by Rachel Grosselin