The Good Liar, a 2019 crime thriller, based on the titular novel by Nicholas Searle, is a cat-and-mouse plot featuring a septuagenarian wealthy widow, Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) and an octogenarian con artist Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen). They meet on a first date scheduled through a dating app for seniors.
Roy obviously does not have good intentions and his motives are soon recognized as dishonorable by Betty’s grandson, Stephen (Russell Tovey), who grows increasingly suspicious and resentful. Betty, on the other hand, seems smitten. Will she see that Roy is a clever liar, not a kind gentleman who will assuage her loneliness?
This theme of the easily manipulated widow, who is too lonely and engulfed by grief to see reality for what it is, usually has few surprises. Not so for The Good Liar. Full of twists and turns that some viewers may think stretch credulity, like any good thriller the foreshadowing and clues are there if one watches carefully and asks why that scene is there.
Even if you guess the lying, deception, and backstory, it is wonderful to watch two much-loved veteran actors fine-tuning every nuance of their characters’ personalities, and every moment of their time on screen. While there are occasional lapses into melodrama, a few subplot holes, and an ending that is weak while the true ending would have been chilling, seeing Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren play unexpected characters against type is more than entertaining. They also have to engage in quite physically demanding action sequences that reward the viewer in and of itself, a tribute to their professionalism and stamina at the height of their game. Ian McKellen is at times convincingly charming, menacing throughout, and vulnerable. Helen Mirren, the sweet widow and grandmother, has a multi-layered persona and pointed, scathing dialogue that asks the viewer: Who is lying now?
This is a sleeper to add to your watch list!
Note: Available on DVD (Netflix) and HBO streaming.