As the opening credits roll, we see glimpses of the mutually widowed “Brian” (Ian McKellen) and “Estelle” (Helen Mirren), each tailoring online profiles for a mature matchmaking service. While he, taking a drag on his cigarette, ticks a box indicating he is a non-smoker and she declares herself not a drinker as she pours and sips another glass of wine, before even a word of dialogue – or Instant Message – is exchanged, we know that both characters have something to hide. But surely these are just the innocent white lies of two lonely seniors re-seeking companionship? Perhaps.
Initially it seems The Good Liar’s intention is to warn of the dangers of meeting strangers over the Internet, but from a unique post-retirement perspective. Which to some degree I suppose it is. However, after a brief online chat and agreeing to meet up, both protagonists mock the triviality of online dating and jointly come clean about their identities, re-introducing themselves as Roy and Betty respectively. But the slate is far from clean; we quickly begin to learn the truth behind Roy’s charm and gentlemanly façade – he is in fact a career con man and swindler with surely only the worst intentions in his pursuit of wealthy Betty. It seems only her suspicious grandson Stephen (played by Russell Tovey), who is vocal in his distrust for Roy from the off, that stands in his way.
And so begins director Bill Condon’s game of cat-and-mouse, based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, and here reuniting with Ian McKellen for the fourth time following Gods and Monsters (1998), Mr. Holmes (2015) and Beauty and the Beast (2017).
Condon navigates each narrative twist and turn with flair and intrigue, as we witness layer upon layer of deception and history unfold. The Good Liar will certainly keep you guessing throughout, and although the film’s unpredictable final act and conclusion unfortunately fails to deliver the same prestige as the parts that precede it, it is fair to say that both McKellen and Mirren – two British acting titans sharing the screen for the very first time, would you believe – are on top form here, and deliver superbly irresistible performances from start to finish. Watch The Good Liar for them, even if for nothing else.
Matt co-hosts the regular CineChat Podcast with Mary. Find out more about the podcast.