It’s a rare opportunity to watch veteran thespians face off on the big screen. I imagine many moviegoers formulate dream casts in their heads, only for their wishes to go unfulfilled. So, consider it a gift that we have a movie with Oscar winner Helen Mirren and two-time nominee Ian McKellen as the leads. That said, given the occasion (I don’t know if they’ve ever starred in another film together), it’s only right to expect the material to live up to actors performing it.
The Good Liar is a simple plot on the surface: con man Roy (McKellen) attempts to swindle widow, Betty (Mirren), out of her fortune. It’s the smaller details and execution that make a story like this work. Betty and Roy’s relationship is cute—even if we know Roy is a criminal. He is charming in a grandfatherly, playful sort of way while also coming off like a Disney villain, feigning innocence. Even if the film didn’t provide a look into Roy’s criminal activities and the score didn’t make it obvious, we would know something was up.
McKellen is entertaining for a while, but the act wears thin over time; the movie is definitely a slow build. Roy’s biggest barrier is Betty’s grandson, Stephen (Russell Tovey). However, Betty is also smarter than Roy believes, which is good. Otherwise, the movie would just be a guy stealing an unsuspecting woman’s money, and who wants to watch that? Suffice to say that Mirren matches, if not outshines, McKellen.
Without going into detail, there are plot elements that make The Good Liar feel like two different movies. The screenplay plants the seeds but doesn’t water them. You want the audience to have the ability to figure things out but obfuscate the truth just enough so most moviegoers won’t. I left the theater feeling a bit short-changed, in that regard.
I wouldn’t recommend seeing The Good Liar in theaters, but it may be worth a watch on Netflix or wherever it lands, if you want to see Mirren and McKellen together, or just hear McKellen swear like a sailor. Just don’t go out of your way searching for it.