Movie Review – The Good Liar
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Bill Condon is a two-time Oscar nominee for writing. He was nominated for writing Gods and Monsters (1998) and Chicago (2002). He didn’t direct Chicago, but he did direct Gods and Monsters. He’s at this point directed a dozen or so theatrical features. His best films or the films with him at that helm that I’ve preferred the most are the ones where Condon has also written the screenplay. Those include Gods and Monsters, Kinsey (2004) and Dreamgirls (2006). His worst films or the films he’s directed that I’ve preferred the least are the ones where he isn’t the screenwriter. Those include all of his features since Dreamgirls. Unfortunately, this one can be included on that list. Yes, Condon directs, but Jeffrey Hatcher (Mr. Holmes and The Duchess) is the screenwriter, adapting the novel by Nicholas Searle. It’s not to say that Hatcher is a bad writer. It’s also not to say that a decent adaptation of Searle’s novel couldn’t have been achieved. When it comes to Condon’s recent features, I haven’t even kept track of which ones he’s written and which ones he hasn’t. It’s either been sheer coincidence that I’ve disliked the features he hasn’t himself written or there is something to Condon’s writing that makes his directing better or connect more.
It’s nothing to do with the actors or the acting. The performances are superb with two veteran and master actors in the forefront. One could possibly point to the source material. At least in this case, the novel by Searle might simply be one that disappoints and that disappointment unfortunately carries into the film, particularly with its resolution. As I consider the material though, it doesn’t seem impossible that it could have been satisfying in the end. Condon or Hatcher simply never find a way to make it fly off the screen or grab me emotionally as Gods and Monsters or Kinsey did.
Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters and Mr. Holmes) stars as Roy Courtnay, a widower who has been dating women via an online dating service. Through the service, he meets a widow with whom he seems to connect after only one date. He has a charm, wit and humor that is appealing, but the connection seems unlikely and too fast. The fact that Roy thinks there is a connection that fast is either a failing of him or the film without giving him more time and more dates to connect with the woman. What’s quickly discovered is that Roy is a con artist. He comes up with schemes to steal lots of money from people, and his relationship with this widow is just another of those schemes to steal her inheritance.
We see him scam a bunch of other men with his partner in crime, Vincent, played by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey). We get the sense that these two have been pulling off heists for a while. Considering who their marks have been, it’s surprising that they’ve been able to get away with it. It’s a wonder though how long exactly and how much money they’ve stolen. It’s suggested that what they’ve stolen is in the millions. It’s a wonder they’re still pulling off heists. Much like Robert Redford’s character in the recent, The Old Man & the Gun (2018), Roy seems to like the thrill of scamming people. However, there are contradictory scenes that suggest he’s almost immediately sick of this particular scam.
Helen Mirren (The Queen and Gosford Park) also stars as Betty McLeish, the aforementioned widow who begins dating Roy. She received an inheritance from her late husband and has other assets that has her valued in the millions, possibly three million in currency. After one or two dates, she’s so taken with Roy that she invites him to stay at her home. It’s spurred by seemingly a bad leg that he has, but her inviting him into her home feels a bit rushed. It also feels rushed, given the strong objections of her grandson who visits regularly.
Russell Tovey (Quantico and Looking) co-stars as Stephen, the grandson to Betty. It’s odd that there’s no mention of Stephen’s parents. It’s weird that Betty’s grandchild visits multiple times but not Betty’s child. It’s weird that we never see any photos of Betty with her child and grandchild. Roy never questions it either. Stephen is right off the back very hostile toward Roy, which could be somewhat understandable. It’s not understandable why they fall on Betty’s seemingly deaf ears. Her resistance and obstinate nature to Stephen’s warnings feel odd. Even when Stephen catches Roy in a lie, she still resists and is obstinate, which doesn’t make sense, and the film never truly justifies it.
Actually, it does justify it. Yet, the way in which does is so outrageous and crazy that hiding it only has value if you want to shock the audience at the end. Unfortunately, it’s cheap. It’s a cheap shock. It makes everything leading up to it feel hollow and empty. The shocking twist explains a lot of the questions, but it’s too late by then. It’s not enough to satisfy. The con game becomes no fun because it seems so easy and obvious. The ending then reveals a tennis match to which we were never privy, so the thrill of the back-and-forth is something we aren’t allowed to experience. All of a sudden, it’s game, set and match without any of the sportsmanship on display. The ending almost feels lazy in how it wraps everything up.
Rated R for some strong violence, language and brief nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 49 mins.