Frank Sinatra had it all wrong. Love isn’t the tender trap. The real trap is when someone says he’s fond of you instead of using the L-word. But it is wholly impossible to refrain from saying love when that person is Helen Mirren. She is the queen, after all. And yet it is Ian McKellen that chooses his words carefully when he’s in her presence.
THE GOOD LIAR is an old-fashioned con movie starring two actors that have never had the privilege of starring opposite one another. The real crime isn’t the swindle; it’s that it has taken this long to finally pair Mirren and McKellen. That the union occurs with a bit of flimflam makes for a nice dalliance in attracting an audience whose cards are issued by the AARP, not a casino dealer.
Neither is straightforward; they can’t complete an online dating profile without having one or two little white lies. Roy Courtnay (McKellen) lies on whether he drinks and smokes. Betty McLeish (Mirren) is the same way. From the get-go it would seem Roy is a charlatan and has made a well to do widow his latest mark. Their first encounter is at restaurant with Roy appearing late and Betty having a glass of wine. She is a radiant beauty, seemingly ageless. He is charming if not taciturn. Either he’s in awe (obviously – it’s the Queen!) or he’s assessing Betty. Quietly observing how she reacts in his company. We see how Roy operates his trade as a con man and as the story moves forward learn how he came to be that way.
He has a small stable of associates that are part of the grifts he pulls, though most of his scores fall less than six figures. Though Betty presents a new set of challenges. While not Oprah rich, Betty is part of the upper-middle-class, having accumulated a nice mint from her late husband.
Since a confidence game is built on trust, Roy works his grift sense in beguiling Betty to do things she is unaccustomed to doing. Then again, Betty also makes big purchases on a whim paying cash in full. This arises suspicion in both characters. Clearly, Roy is not to be trusted. He is as the title advertises: a good liar. Good is good, but it is far from great.
The same could be said of Bill Condon’s film. Condon, who seems to be taking a respite from making big-budget musicals, helms a production where the artistry lives with the performances. McKellen as the sly fox and Mirren as the timid hen is more than enough to warrant attention.
They are the drawing power for a drama where tensions arise at a glacial pace. Back and forth it moves as Roy lays a trap where Betty could be left without a pound to her name. Ah, if only were that simple.
THE GOOD LIAR is an enjoyable play on con artist motifs that have come before. From Patricia Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY to the works of David Mamet, including the one that made us wish we had those Glengarry leads, the drama partially succeeds in that the audiences knows the scam early on only to have the con become a means for revenge.
Rated R, 109 minutes.
Director: Bill Condon
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russel Tovey, and Jim Carter
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!