Review: 'The Good Liar', Ian McKellen And Helen Mirren Are Engaged In A Hitchcockian Game Of Cat And Mouse

Maybe it's in response to the deluge of superhero movies, but we've seen an uptick in thrillers and mysteries aimed for mature audiences, and I for one am loving it. The Good Liar, a tightly wound tale of deception worthy of Hitchcock is the best of the bunch, featuring a delicious game of cat and mouse between screen veterans Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren.

I've often said evil Ian McKellen is the best McKellen, but I have to throw shady Ian McKellen in there now. He plays con-man Roy, a shifty old swindler who alongside his accountant pal Vincent (Downton Abbey's Jim Carter) makes a modest living conning both wealthy businessmen and regular folks alike with get-rich-quick schemes that go nowhere. It's a good way to earn a buck but also a lot of enemies.

It should come as no surprise an Internet dating site would be Roy's preferred method of scoping out his next target. Lying comes so easily to those looking to make a good impression; for a con artist it's even easier. A little fib about not smoking...maybe change your name...what's the difference? Roy attracts the attention of Betty, a widow living in an empty house and with a lot of spare time on her hands. She also has a lot of spare money, and Roy wants to get his hands on it. The only thing standing in his way is earning her trust, and winning over her suspicious grandson (Russell Tovey) who is always sniffing around.

Directed by Bill Condon and adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, The Good Liar keeps its twists and turns close to the vest at all times, heightening the tension in subtle ways. Revelations are earned by paying close attention to the things each character says, a subtle gesture, a glance...all of these things are given incredible weight by Hatcher's screenplay and performance with the necessary nuance by McKellen and Mirren. It's to everyone's credit that what we think is the biggest reveal, and thus the most telegraphed one, is only a small part of a much bigger tapestry.This being a movie about a con artist, you know that somebody is going to get screwed out of something. That's just the nature of this kind of story. The big finish is ultimately a satisfying one, but I would say there's just one twist too many and there aren't enough clues to go around.

What's interesting about The Good Liar is that, for a lot of the way it doesn't really portray itself as a crime movie. From the moment Betty and Roy connect, it's as much about seeing the kind of influence a good woman like her can have on his dangerous lifestyle. Will she help turn him around? Maybe Roy will change his ways?  A couple of acts of surprising brutality help wipe away that notion, however. This movie is a lot more violent than I think its dignified air would suggest.

I think it's fair to say the draw of The Good Liar will be the presence of McKellen and Mirren, who to the best of my knowledge have never done anything like this together before. The film is suspenseful enough to hold merits of its own, but rare is the chance to see two of cinema's legends square off for two hours and it shouldn't be missed.

3.5 out of 5