Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren Make a Sublime Pair in Twisty Thriller ‘The Good Liar’
Using the internet for trickery is not just a young person’s game, as we see in the “The Good Liar,” a thriller set in London that follows an octogenarian, Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen), as he works to swindle kindly widow, Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), out of her life savings. From the very first scene, we know Roy is bad news, as we see him falsify information in his dating profile. The man who meets Betty for lunch is fairly non-threatening, with his bum knee and overall genial manner. But afterwards, he ditches the cane heads to a strip club, where he rubs elbows with an unsavory group of associates, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s the most unscrupulous of them all, a dangerous career criminal. Taking money from a vulnerable older lady should be an easy, cut-and-dry operation for an experienced man like Roy, but the con turns out to be anything but simple the deeper he gets into his pseudo-relationship with Betty.
At first glance, Betty seems like an ordinary older woman looking to dip her toe back into the dating pool after the death of her spouse. On one hand, she comes off as weary of bullshit, as Betty is at the point in her life where she has little time left to waste. On the other, she seems all too eager to get close to someone, and after a few dates, she invites Roy to stay in her guestroom, as his top-floor flat is no good for his knee. She’s not so much interested in romance as she is companionship, and the deeper she gets in with Roy, the easier it seems for her to ignore red flags, such as having his accountant, Vincent (Jim Carter), really his partner in crime, discuss with her finances and the possibility of combining her assets with Roy’s in order to invest and possibly receive a “windfall.”
Steven (Russell Tovey), Betty’s inquisitive grandson, proves to be a thorn in Roy’s side, but the more the younger man pushes, the more Betty is resolved to defend her guy and their relationship. While Betty’s growing attachment should be a positive for Roy, it becomes something of an obstacle, as he finds himself developing real feelings for her.
Just when the viewer thinks “The Good Liar” can only end one of two ways, the plot takes a left turn during a holiday in Berlin. A twisty backstory is uncovered, one that is so rich in detail that it makes the viewer wonder if the screenplay was adapted from a novel. As it turns out, it was based on Nicholas Searle’s book of the same name. All of this leads to a tense third act that leaves the audience guessing all the way to the end.
While not a total gorefest, “The Good Liar” is bloody at times, and there are some violent scenes, including a shocking one involving Roy, a disgruntled former associate (Mark Lewis Jones), and the London tube. McKellen proves himself to be rather spry, but it’s Mirren who steals the show. One minute she’s warm and maternal, and the next she’s deliciously deceptive, and she does it all so effortlessly. Just like with the majority of Mirren’s characters, there are many layers to Betty, and she is a delight to watch.
“The Good Liar” opens Nov. 15 in theaters nationwide.