The Good Liar is based off the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, and after watching the movie I suspected that it’s the type of story that works better in book form. That can be argued for a lot of adaptations, as books obviously have a lot more time to develop characters and lay the groundwork for the story, while a movie often has to fit the story into a two-hour time frame. That’s not to say adaptations are bound to fail, as there are plenty that deliver a strong enough theatrical version of the tale being told that both work in their own ways; however, I don’t believe The Good Liar is one of them.
That sounds kind of harsh, but such is the case, as I went and read the first few pages of the novel after the movie finished and saw how carefully things were worded, and how the secrets were guarded right from the start to keep the readers captivated. Now that’s not to say the movie is bad, as Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are a joy to watch together on the screen, but the way that the story is told just lacks any sort of suspense or mystery. Well, that may not be fair to say, as there are layers to the story that unfold to reveal things about the characters as the movie progresses, but the way it’s all handled just doesn’t do the story justice at all.
The film begins with Roy (McKellen) and Betty (Mirren) both filling out profiles on a dating site, and as they do we see that they’re both lying, as Roy checks off that he’s a non-smoker before taking a drag of his cigarette, and Betty clicks that she doesn’t drink before taking a sip from her wine glass. I won’t get started as to how ridiculous it is to say you don’t smoke, and then later try to hide it by spraying a few shots of Binaca into your mouth before going back into the house, as that’s not going to hide the smell that covers your clothing, as anyone who knows anyone that smokes can attest to, but I digress. The main point here is that right out of the gate we, the viewer, see both of these two as liars.
So when we find out early on that Roy is a conman looking to swindle Betty out of her almost £3 million life savings, it’s hard to see Betty as just an innocent mark. I mean, it doesn’t help that Mirren always has an aura about her that she knows something is up, as instead of becoming engrossed in the story, I spent pretty much the entirety of the movie just waiting to see how Betty was going to turn the tables on Roy. It wasn’t a question of if she would, it was a question of when, and with the movie being just under two hours in length, that’s a lot of time being spent knowing something is going to happen and having to sit through her acting as though she’s just a helpless mark for 90% of it.
And I don’t feel as though that’s a spoiler at all because this has to be the first mystery thriller you’ve ever seen if you don’t know it’s coming, whether it be with how bluntly the trailer states it or with how the opening of the film doesn’t try to hide it. It’s unfortunate because I love a good con artist movie, and while there’s no way to predict Betty’s side of things, the fact that I was just waiting for it to happen while the movie continues on as though I should still view her as a helpless elderly woman does take away a great deal from the story.
Now I haven’t read more than a handful of pages from the novel, but I feel like Searle took greater care to hide Betty’s ability to match wits with Roy much better than the film (I mean, the trailer’s tagline flat out spoils it stating “The Perfect Mark Becomes The Perfect Match,”) which is why I understand why an adaptation of the book made sense to the filmmakers who read it; however, it’s possible that something as small as Roy lying on his profile and not showing Betty doing the same could’ve changed how Betty was viewed going forward. Or simply start with Roy preparing for the blind date and not show Betty until he arrives at the restaurant. Anything to keep the audience from instantly viewing Betty as suspiciously as they do Roy.
But alas, it is what it is, and in the end The Good Liar is just an average movie that doesn’t properly build the connection between the characters, audience and story it’s trying to tell required for it to be as emotionally impactful as it hopes to be. It’s propped up by a strong performance by McKellen and Mirren (though she doesn’t help Betty’s case by always giving off a feeling as though she’s anything but feeble.) Still, their chemistry is great and if you’re a fan of either then you’ll likely enjoy their work here and I’d say it’s worth checking out just for that. But if you’re in the mood for a thriller that’ll keep you guessing until the end you may want to look elsewhere, as nothing takes the wind out of the sails of a good mystery like knowing the tables are going to turn, and spending 100-minutes simply waiting for it to happen just so you can know why. And all for the sake of knowing, instead of actually because you care.
But alas, it is what it is, and in the end The Good Liar is just an average movie that doesn’t properly build the connection between the characters, audience and story it’s trying to tell required for it to be as emotionally impactful as it hopes to be. It’s propped up by a strong performance by McKellen and Mirren (though she doesn’t help Betty’s case by always giving off a feeling as though she’s anything but feeble.) Still, their chemistry is great and if you’re a fan of either then you’ll likely enjoy their work here and I’d say it’s worth checking out just for that. But if you’re in the mood for a thriller that’ll keep you guessing until the end you may want to look elsewhere, as nothing takes the wind out of the sails of a good mystery like spending 100-minutes simply waiting for the tables to turn, not because you care, but simply just so you can know why.
There are no real complaints to be had on the visuals or audio side of things. The film looks strong visually throughout, with a great understanding of how to make things look interesting regardless of if they are by Director Bill Condon. When we jump to the past it looks it, and seamlessly goes back to present day without feeling out of place in the movie. The audio is well done, with clear dialogue, sound mixing and score. Again, just no complaints to be had.
A Perfect Match – This feature touches on how the adaptation came to be, working on the film, and the fun the crew had together. We hear from Searle, Director Bill Condon, scriptwriter Jeffrey Hatcher, McKellen, Mirren and some other cast and crew on all these notes. It’s a quick watch for those interested.
Deleted Scenes – There are some deleted scenes for those who enjoy them as well.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents The Good Liar. Directed by: Bill Condon. Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher. Based on the novel by: Nicholas Searle. Starring: Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russel Tovey, Jim Carter. Running time: 109 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Feb. 4, 2020.
Tags: Bill Condon, Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Jim Carter, Nicholas Searle, Russel Tovey, The Good Liar