Bill Condon’s modest thriller The Good Liar is based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher and offers a sweeping tale of psychological intrigue sandwiched between victimhood and vengeance.
Ian McKellen stars as Roy, a charming yet deceptive con-artist who prowls amongst the ignorant rich for opportunities of quick finance deals, then scamming his investors at any cost.
Roy uses his senior years to portray himself as a stereotypical old widow and decent citizen who means well. He has fine-tuned his schemes to a level where he pulls in his suckers and pulls out rich in a matter of hours, all with his loyal partner in crime, Vincent (Jim Carter, Downtown Abbey).
Betty (Helen Mirren), a conservative ex-professor widow who is worth millions, meets unassuming Roy online and after their first successful date, is convinced to pursue a friendship. Unsurprisingly the relationship develops at super-fast speed with Roy beguiling Betty to let him move into her home and, eventually, into pilfering her wealthy inheritance. To his disdain, Roy discovers that Betty lives with her protective grandson, Steven (Russel Tovey) who immediately distrusts Roy, doggedly guarding his grandmother at every turn.
Just when the film settles into predictable con-artist narrative, we find out just how big a liar Roy really is. The setting shifts to Nazi Germany and unveils a wartime and post-war past, teasing out flashback clues to unhinge Roy as something more sinister than a wily old con-artist.
Gratifyingly we are given double-crossing twists between the characters on screen, as we make plausible assumptions while piecing together the jigsaw of a likely resolution.
Thrillers featuring career thieves is not a new sub-genre. This could have followed the comedic charms of lighthearted con-men as other filmmakers have done, such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but director Bill Condon intentionally delves deeper into a multi-dimensional plot with a dark heart motivating both our leading characters.
What makes this adult film an engaging feature to stand out from a pack of youth-pleasing spinoffs and sequels are the veteran performers – Mirren, McKellen, Carter – each in their acting prime and each sublime to watch.
While the film may have perceived flaws – even with some notion of predictibility – you will be struck by the disturbing depths the backstories go.
The Good Liar connects a modern audience to an intriguing political context by delivering beyond historical view point and, rather, interrogating a shocking human-interest story.
This is more than a typical thriller – outplay, outwit, outlive? Well… The greatest pleasure is the genius pairing of its congenial leads. Just allow your suspension of disbelief to outweigh resistance to the ultimate revelations.
‘The Good Liar’ is in cinemas now.