by Alan Yudman
A con movie? A thriller? A story about paying a price for lying? THE GOOD LIAR is all of that and more. The film stars two legendary actors, Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren as a widower and widow who meet-up online. McKellan is a con man who with his partner Jim Davis (Carson from DOWNTON ABBEY) keep multiple schemes in the air to make money relying on their wits. Mirren is a retired Oxford professor who lives alone, or sometimes with her grandson Stephen. She seems like a naïve, but lovely old lady who just wants a companion so she doesn’t have to spend her later years alone.
McKellan sees an opportunity to run an investment scam on her to steal her millions. The movie goes along on that storyline for quite a while. McKellan and Mirren become closer. He moves in with her after he’s hobbled by a balky knee. She also has some health problems… the occasional micro stroke. She’s frail and trusting and the perfect target. But is she?
The movie spends about an hour setting up that plot. Then the twists start coming. After the first one I felt, “ok that was a great reveal… how will he finish her off?” Then more twists… more than a pack of red vines. And in the end, you are gob smacked by what is happening on the screen.
It’s not that it’s that much of a surprise. Just pay attention to the way Mirren looks at McKellan as the movie goes along and you may realized something deeper is going on here. I would not want to be on the other end of Helen Mirren’s withering gaze. But the execution of all of this is superb. The script by Jeffrey Hatcher based on the book by Nicholas Searle, could have been a confusing mess. Maybe it is too simple, but being able to follow the twists is not a bad thing. Bill Condon’s direction is wonderful and Carter Burwell’s score is marvelous.
But the treat here is watching two great actors thrust and parry through the plot. McKellan can go from charming to devious to monstrous in the blink of an eye. Mirren hides her motives so well that it is quite the surprise when it all comes to the end. I really can’t go into too much detail for fear of spoiling everything, but THE GOOD LIAR is worth allowing into your brain for a couple of hours.