THE GOOD LIAR movie poster | ©2019 Warner Bros.

THE GOOD LIAR movie poster | ©2019 Warner Bros.

Rating: R
Stars: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter
Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher, based on the novel by Nicholas Searle
Director: Bill Condon
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release Date: November 15, 2019

THE GOOD LIAR is one of those satisfyingly twisty thrillers made nigh-perfect by the presence of Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen in the leads. These are two actors who could mesmerize us with the proverbial phone book reading. With material this good, they are riveting throughout.

We’re in London, 2009. Why is that important? Well, remember it, because the year (in relation to other years) is one clue as to what’s happening.

We see from the outset that Betty (Mirren) and Roy (McKellen) are at least prone to fibbing on their online dating profiles, saying they don’t smoke or drink when they do. They also initially use fake names, but midway through their first in-person date, they open up a little, and rapport seems born.

We learn quickly – though Betty is not privy to what we see – that Roy is a con artist, in cahoots with his pal Vincent (Jim Carter) on a complex but lucrative investment scam. When a bit of digging shows that Betty is worth a fair bit of cash, Roy zeroes in on her, gently wooing her and playing on her sympathies, eventually bringing Vincent in as his “financial consultant” who offers some advice. Betty’s scholarly grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), who is studying German history, is suspicious about Roy’s motives, but Betty doesn’t want to be treated as though she can’t take care of herself. There’s also a mysterious car that seems to be casing Betty’s house, and a nocturnal break-in that startles both her and Roy. But is Roy actually falling for Betty in the course of this new scam?

THE GOOD LIAR movie poster | ©2019 Warner Bros.

THE GOOD LIAR movie poster | ©2019 Warner Bros.

That question may be asked by someone taking the events so far at face value. Someone more used to the conventions of the genre is more likely to wonder what is actually happening here. Screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel is adroit, swift and doesn’t tip its hand too soon. To suggest what should be studied carefully would be to give the game away, though director Bill Condon gives us moments to be studied.

There is one problem that may not have existed in the novel, in that there’s something in plain sight that the audience has no possible way of knowing is significant. When it’s revealed, what feels like it ought to be an “Aha!” realization instead is more, “Wait, what?” In fairness to the filmmakers, it’s hard to think of a way that it could have been gently suggested without prematurely causing us to leap to correct deductions. Still, it seems like there should be one extra mislead in here somewhere.

THE GOOD LIAR gets darker than its early tone might lead us to expect. By the end, we’ve seen several serious assaults and murders. (We also get a great stunt in which three struggling people pile onto each other and roll onto the floor – it looks chaotic and real.)

Mirren can do so much with her gaze that we don’t dare turn away for an instant. McKellen, who has worked with director Condon on multiple occasions over the past thirty years (including their first film together, GODS AND MONSTERS, which won Condon a screenplay Oscar and McKellen a Best Actor nomination), is splendid at making us wonder what he’s actually thinking and feeling at any given moment. Tovey and Carter provide staunch support.

If you’re looking for a thriller with a bit of bite and superb performances, THE GOOD LIAR is here for you, honest.

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