The Good Liar Review
Adapted from Nicholas Searle’s debut novel of the same name, The Good Liar brings together British acting royalty in the shape of Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. As the title suggests, it’s a thriller about the art of deception and those who have become pretty adept at telling porky pies. ‘Read between the lies’ the poster says, but events in director Bill Condon's film become so protracted and elaborate that by the time the truth is revealed you’ll have probably lost all interest.
McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, a career conman who seems to have spent much of his life ripping off high-end marks with partner in crime, Vincent (Jim Carter). When Roy’s not setting up dodgy property investment schemes he’s popping onto dating sites looking for rich widows to swindle. Whether Betty (Mirren) is another in a long list we never know, but he’s quickly invited to live in her suburban home where he starts to weasel his way into her sizeable savings account.
The Good Liar relies on lengthy flashbacks to fill in the details of its characters, spread across decades encompassing post-war Berlin (look closely at the title sequence) up to 2009 (perhaps only used to squeeze in a thematic reference to Inglourious Basterds?). It takes an age to get into the meat and bones of the story, with Betty’s suspicious grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), used as the narrative roadblock to keep the pacing in first gear for way too long. Even though the runtime is set at 110 minutes, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it extends past the two hour mark.
As you would expect, the performances are of suitably high quality, and with Roy’s perspective taking precedence you can see McKellen is enjoying playing the crafty, manipulative conman. Aside from his role as Magneto in the X-Men films, away from the stage McKellen seems to have taken up residency as the nation’s favourite genial grandfather, a real-life Gandalf filled with acting magic, wisdom and decades of industry stories. Here he gets to play the dastardly sort and even drops a string of c-bombs which is pretty enjoyable to watch.
Searle’s book was largely well-received on release and went on to become a Sunday Times Best Seller, but reviews of the book noted the effort it took to see the story through to the end. Some may find the final pay-off worth the slog it takes to get there but it hardly feels revelatory once it arrives. Even in the moment of truth it becomes bogged down with a tediously slow flashback before offering the world’s most unlikely explanation and wrapping things up in the blink of an eye. There's an art to keeping your cards up your sleeve but Condon seems to forget what he's done with them. It would take a good liar to tell you this succeeds as a taut thriller, but even that wouldn't be able to cover up the truth.
The Good Liar opens in UK cinemas on November 8