Bill Condon is one of those directors who’s not well suited for large scale films. Every time he’s made a larger scale, blockbuster film, mainly Twilight: Breaking Dawn and Beauty and the Beast, they haven’t worked. His best films have been more small scale ones, and of those films, the ones Condon has made with Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters and Mr Holmes) have been my favourites. So when I heard Condon and McKellen were working together again, I was excited and hearing it would be about McKellen as a con artist and McKellen would be working with Helen Mirren, I was excited. The film itself I thought was really good, even if it does stumble at the ending.
The film follows Roy Courtnay, a long time con artist who manipulates people into giving him access to their finances. His latest mark is Betty McLeish, a former History lecturer at Oxford who has close to £3 million in savings. Roy hopes to seduce Betty so they can open a joint account together, at which point he’ll steal her savings. However, matters are complicated by Betty’s grandson Steven, who doesn’t trust Roy and some former marks of Roy wanting their money back. Now the general pacing and tone of the film works for the con artist element. We know throughout the film that there is something else about Roy, aside from being a con artist, that he is hiding and the film does a good job at providing enough hints for the audience to understand what is happening and hide the specific details until they are necessary. Granted, when it does come time for explanations the film goes a bit exposition heavy, but these scenes do generally work in the context of the film. The film also does an effective job at showing the more dangerous side of being a con artist and the constant suspicion Roy has that he’ll be caught, along with the thrill of the chase and the monetary reward that will come, which helps make the film tense and exciting throughout. The only real issue I had was with the ending, with a final twist that, whilst fitting for the characters, does come a bit out of nowhere and needed to be foreshadowed more effectively earlier in the film.
The performances meanwhile help make the film work as well as it does. Ian McKellen is excellent as Roy, having an effective charming nature to make the con artist element of the character work, along with showing a darker, more violent side to the character. Helen Mirren meanwhile effectively plays the naive Betty, showing her relationship with Roy develop over the course of the film. It’s hard to go more into detail about the performances from McKellen and Mirren, especially as the ending changes the context of their performances, but what I will say is that the chemistry the two have together is electric and the charm and power of these performers is present every time they’re on screen together. There are also good supporting performances from Jim Carter as Roy’s accomplice Vincent, showing a genuine friendship between the two and how he acts as the financial figurehead to give Roy’s cons a sense of legitimacy to the marks, whilst Russell Tovey as Stephen effectively shows his mistrust of Roy and concern and love of Betty throughout the film.
Overall, The Good Liar is a pretty hard film to review, especially since so much of the context of the film is changed by the last 20 minutes, but I found to be an entertaining and engaging thriller, mostly due to the excellent lead performances from Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen.
My Rating: 4/5