The Good Liar (2019) Review

OF SECRETS, LIES, AND DECEPTIONS


 

Tales of duplicity, con-artist, and deception have been a commonplace staple within the variety of cinematic features. Throughout the years, these storytelling features (often considered slow-burner thrillers), often focus their attention of particular character, which shows one façade (believing the individual is one), but, as things progress, the truth comes out; unraveling a duality nature behind them (whether justifiable or not) and learning their true intentions in a shocking manner. It’s a tried and true storytelling presentation that works, with Hollywood taking the opportunity to incorporate this character style arc within many theatrical motion pictures, including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The General’s Daughter, Primal Fear, Gone Girl, American Hustle, Focus, and Wall Street, amongst many others. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and director Bill Condon present the latest feature of deception, secrets, and lies in the movie The Good Liar. Does this film underneath an entertaining truth to discover or is it a humdrum slow-burner that doesn’t go anywhere?

THE STORY


Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) has made a career for himself as a professional con man, and a skillful one at that. However, within old age era of his life, he’s sick and tired of managing modest scams and divvying up the profits gained amongst his partners, eager to find something “big” to help secure his retirement plans from the trade. Taking to the world of online match dating, Roy finds his mark within Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), meekly widow who’s claimed a fortune from her late husband and hoping to forgo the void of loneliness by finding a companion outside of her attentive grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey). Putting on his charm and modesty, Roy works extremely hard in pinning for Betty, presenting himself as a fragile and harmless man in need of love, charming his way into her home, where she intends to take care of the elderly man. Complications for Roy quickly arrive when past crimes quickly come back to haunt him, while his partner, Vincent (Jim Carter), inspires the con artist to double his efforts, trying to secretly pressure Betty into a financial arrangement; an action that caused Steven to be suspicious of Roy’s true intentions.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Being a fan of cinematic tales of a wide variety of genres, the narratives of con-artist and deceptive individuals have always been a point of interest for me. Not just simply because of the what’s being told (and transpires) within the story, but rather within the twists and turns that the feature has to offer (i.e. the classic “turn” appeal) as well as characters (and acting talents) that play the pivotal roles with these narratives. Of course, I do like how appeal of these tales can be crossed into various genres with such like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Snowman, and Gone Girl taking more strides into the dark psychological thrillers to the more lighthearted endeavor found in Catch Me if You Can, and Ocean’s 11 (and its sequels) as well as even more heist dramas like The Thomas Crown Affair. So, while movie will continue to be produced and created, the ideas of secret and lies (at the heart of a narrative) will continue to play a powerful storytelling artform within the cinematic realm; not matter what genre the narrative falls into.

Naturally, this brings to discussing my thoughts on the movie The Good Liar, the latest con-artist narrative drama thriller of secret and lies. While this type of movie is, more or less, a type of “Oscar bait” endeavor, I actually didn’t hear much about this movie online. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t intrigued by it, especially after I saw the film’s movie trailer for the feature, but it wasn’t on my future forecast movie radar until the studio dropped the trailer for The Good Liar online a few months ago. I can honestly say that I was “hooked” immediately after seeing the film’s movie trailer, especially since the movie starred Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren (both of whom I absolutely love and respect their acting talents). Plus, the film’s story looked intriguing. Nothing I’ve seeing before, but I was still quite curious to see how the feature’s narrative would play out. So, I decided to see The Good Liar on one of day’s off my work (during an afternoon matinee showing). What did I think of it? While the movie doesn’t exactly break the mold of the psychological thriller that movie strives to be, The Good Liar still is able to pain a dubious motion picture of deception and lies with the assistants of its stellar two leads. It’s not the most engrossing narrative to have been told, but the film is still able to manage in finding its undercurrent of devious nature of double-dealing trickery and poignant revelations.

Also, as a side-note, The Good Liar is based off of the book (of the same name) by author Nicholas Searle. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to read the book prior to seeing the movie. So, my review is gonna be solely on the feature film itself and not so much on what was add, removed, or changed from Searle’s literary format.

The Good Liar is directed by Bill Condon, whose previous directorial works include such films like Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes, and Beauty and the Beast. Given his wide variety features he’s directed (as well as working with McKellen in Mr. Holmes), Condon seems like a suitable choice in helming a project like this; finding a satisfying appeal and tone with The Good Liar’s presentation and appeal, which is more of a character study piece rather than a plot-driven feature. Coinciding with that, Condon doesn’t make the film a dreary endeavor (something akin to The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo or The Snowman), but rather present courtship of Roy and Betty in a somewhat “Hitchockian” approach; peeling away at the Roy’s deception and the fragile concerns of Betty. It definitely works and, while there are few moments of suspended disbelief at what’s going on, Condon’s skillful craftmanship of the feature is indeed a welcomed on and plays up to the strengths of its two leads stars (more on that below). Additionally, the movie’s screenplay, which was penned by Jeffery Hatcher, takes Searle’s literary works and translate that narrative into a cinematic story by providing plenty of character “tit of tat” moments and exchanges between Roy and Betty; allowing the acting talents to excel within their respective characters. Also, Hatcher’s screenplay finds an interesting undertone of exploring history and why certain individuals have inherently live there (in the past), while others are able to dismiss together, with the past remain in the past (moving on with their lives). It’s definitely a more philosophical question to pose and certainly an instrumental part in The Good Liar’s main two characters; examining memories that trauma that can impact a person’s live (even when those memories and trauma are in the distant past). Thus, altogether, Condon and Hatcher shape The Good Liar to be an intriguing feature that plays up its star power and measure its narrative within the past’s actions that linger within us all.

In its presentation, The Good Liar is a solid endeavor. Granted, the movie’s technical aspect and achievement probably won’t be recognized for any award nomination this upcoming season, but the movie looks quite pleasing to the eye with no blemishes in its presentation and feeling like a quality drama feature in its undertaking. Thus, the variety of filmmaking aspects, including John Stevenson (production designs), Tamsin Clarke (set decorations), Keith Madden (costume designs), and music score (Carter Burwell) are well-represented in the film by adding an extra layer of cinematic to the movie’s dubious tale of duplicity and deception.

There are a few problems to be had with the movie; making The Good Liar falters within its storytelling and overall execution. Perhaps the one that many will agree with is in its overarching presentation (not the technical merits), but rather framing of the feature and how it all plays out. Of course, the tale of deception that Roy speaks of and how he “cons” Betty is something worth watching, but the film’s script doesn’t demonstrate a lot of creative ingenuity beyond its initial setup of two elder individuals. Yes, the story presented in The Good Liar is intriguing, but not exactly the most “riveting” as most of the twists and turns that the movie’s screenplay has to offer can be easily spotted before they arrive. Naturally, the art of subtilty isn’t exact refined in the feature’s workings as Condon seems to drop hints here and there, which are meant to foreshadow the movie’s “big reveal moments”. So, when the big third act twist comes, it can be a bit disappointing as some viewers, including myself, won’t be completely blown away by the film’s cleverness in disguising the truths in plain sight. Thus, those expecting some gritty and completely subversive in psychological thrills like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Gone Girl are gonna find The Good Liar partly underwhelming.

To be quite honest, most of The Good Liar is very straightforward to a certain degree; something one would expect from psychological con-artist thriller. That being said, some of the elements in the feature’s story are a bit unnecessary and only are presented for a bit of “shock and awe” fanfare, which only muddle the film’s story as well as the movie’s pacing. Speaking of pacing, despite The Good Liar being only 109 minutes long (one hour and forty-nine minutes long), the movie certainly feels longer than it should be. In truth, I personally felt that the movie could’ve abandoned certain scenes / sequences altogether and probably could’ve expanded a other scenes and story threads for a better (and wholesome) tighter presentation of the feature.

Of course, what makes The Good Liar work (rising above its criticism) is in the movie’s lead characters of Roy Courtnay and Betty McLeish, who are played the very talented individuals of actor Ian McKellen and actress Helen Mirren respectfully. McKellen, known for his roles in The Lord of The Rings trilogy, The Hobbit Trilogy, and Mr. Holmes, showcases the multi-façade acting talents of the seasoned veteran actor in his portrayal of Roy; changing from despicable man with his devious con-artist trickery to a pleasant / kind-hearted elder man who’s looking for love and companionship. It’s definitely a great juicy role for McKellen to play, which is probably why he wanted to play the role, with most of the movie focusing on Roy’s mask of deception as he tries to con Betty to his will. Definitely an incredibly solid role for the thespian actor and I absolutely loved what McKellen did with the character of Roy. Likewise, Mirren, known for her roles in Woman in Gold, Eye in the Sky, and The Queen, is terrific as Roy’s “mark” Betty McLeish. While McKellen’s Roy is perhaps the more “lead” of the two and gets more of camera spotlight, Mirren still excels in projecting the subtle warmth of Betty as she slowly plays right into Roy’s hand as well as being a bit more devious than expected. Together, both McKellen certainly bring their A-game to the feature’s proceedings as the narrative unfolds and allowing the pair to play off one another as Roy and Betty play a certain “cat and mouse” in the narrative. To be honest, it’s almost electrifying to see the two together on-screen; not only because of seasoned (and brilliant) “old school” acting talents, but because McKellen and Mirren share exciting chemistry with each other.

With the movie heavily focusing on McKellen and Mirren for most of its runtime (and it should be), the rest of the cast are delegated to supporting roles throughout. This includes actor Russell Tovey (Looking and Him & Her) as Betty’s grandson Stephen, actor Jim Carter (Downton Abbey and Shakespeare in Love) as Roy’s fellow con-artist associate Vincent, actor Mark Lewis Jones (Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and Chernobyl) as Bryn, actor Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson (Alpha and Atomic Blonde) as Vlad, and actor Lucian Msamati (Luther and Game of Thrones) as Beni. Collectively, these acting talents are very much secondary, with the movie honing on the on-screen chemistry of McKellen and Mirren, but their respective roles are solid and their acting talent behind the characters are spot on, especially Tovey’s Stephen.

FINAL THOUGHTS


It’s deception, secrets, and lies that unfold as Roy Courtnay purses Betty McLeish (and her money) in the movie The Good Liar. Director Bill Condon latest film plays up the con-artist aspect in its dubious character as shocking twists and revelations behind him (and his mark) are slowly revealed; drumming up the ultimate question of who’s chasing who. While the movie’s framework doesn’t exactly break the mold of what’s coming before of the con-artist narratives (or even drama thrillers of a similar nature), the movie excels within Condon’s direction, its technical presentation, and rock-solid acting caliber talents casted in the movie, especially in McKellen and Mirren’s theatrical roles. Personally, I liked this movie. While it’s not exactly the most “riveting” or “unflinching” thrillers psychological thriller out there, what’s presented is still quite compelling and entertaining with its two powerhouse leads charging up the feature with their thespian screen presence. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a well-deserved “recommended” one as it does showcase some fantastic acting within a deceptive tale. In the end, while the movie might not be the fan-favorite feature to entice the general public of moviegoers, The Good Liar demonstrates some truly quality character acting of seeing McKellen and Mirren square off against each other in shadowy courtship of secrets and lies.

3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)

Released On: November 15th, 2019
Reviewed On: November 24th, 2019

The Good Liar  is 109 minutes long and is rated R for some strong violence, and for language, and brief nudity

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