The Good Liar (2019). Film review of the thriller starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan

Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan in the film The Good Liar (2019)

Thriller/suspense/film noir


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching


image four star rating very good lots to enjoy

Film review, by Jason Day and Win Hughes of The Good Liar, the thriller about a single, mature woman and the con man who is trying to fleece her of a fortune. Starring Helen Mirren, Ian McKellan and Russell Tovey.

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Estelle (Helen Mirren) is a mature woman who has been a widow for the past year. Going out on a limb she starts online dating.

She meets Roy (Ian McKellan) and the two hit it off so she confides her real name is Betty and the two start to seriously date each other, much to the consternation of her disapproving grandson (Russell Tovey).

But Roy is a con man who is after her considerable life savings, aided by his wingman Vince (Jim Carter).

But what other secrets is Roy – and for that matter Betty – hiding?

Review, by @Reelreviewer and @win_hughes

Warner Bros.

The phrase a ’tissue of lies’ doesn’t quite cut it considering the mass of fibs told by multiple characters throughout this twisty-turny thriller, that keeps you guessing throughout in the most splendid of ways.

Tissue of lies? Hah! Kleenex would clean up if it were!

In this film the lies we tell, the subterfuge we commit, the torments we play on those around us come back to haunt us days, years, decades later.

This film and the moral ‘lessons’ it seeks to impart are built around deceit, duplicity and, inevitably, destruction. As such, it really tantalized me.

The principal four characters are inherently untrustworthy from the start.

As they complete their online dating profiles, McKellan chuffs on a fag as he ticks ‘No’ for the do you smoke section.

Mirren swigs on a glass of wine as she emphatically states she doesn’t drink alcohol.

Black line, white lies…Roy (Ian McKellan) has a tubular time on the underground in The Good Liar (2019). Image: Warner Bros.

White lies perhaps, but they accumulate and become beige – McKellan suffocates amidst the surroundings of Mirren’s mushroom and taupe interiors.

He’s far more used to the garish, neon colours of strip clubs, holding court with two men he will fleece out of thousands in Stringfellows, a setting I never thought I’d see gay, uber-Shakespearean McKellan in.

Another thing you’ll be pleasently surprised at – at least, I was! – is McKellan’s liberal use of the ‘C’ word. He sprays it all over the show in one scene.

Tovey’s character lies through his teeth as well – looking out for his beloved gran never rings true. There are millions up for grabs and he is her only ‘nearest and dearest’.

These three swirl around in a malestrom of mischief and monkeying around, playing superbly with the haul of red herrings in the script.

Auf wiedersehen, Ian! Steven (Russell Tovey), with Gran Betty (Helen Mirren) has uncovered something from Roy’s past in The Good Liar (2019). Image: Warner Bros.

Mirren never quite convinces as the ‘beige babe’. The sexy older woman who is part and parcel of this most celebrated and awarded actresses always peeks out.

Her acting is fine but it’s the mish-mash of the real-life glamour gal with the supposedly gullible and sweet character that strikes the big note of unconvincing in the movie. Rather than suspending her audience’s disbelief, she makes us analyse her character’s motives too much. It was fun for a it but then…unsubtle. It got in the way a bit.

The whiff of falsity becomes a sweet pong in her presence.

Better is her leading man. Incredibly it is only the second time in their long theatrical careers and the first time on film or TV (they starred in the play Dance of Death on Broadway in 2011) that Mirren and McKellan have acted opposite each other.

Droopy Dog is a deceitful dog…Roy (Ian McKellan) prepares to pounce in The Good Liar (2019). Image: Warner Bros.

It’s the physicality of his performance that you notice the most.

From his homely, Droopy Dog expression and confident banter, this is a man whose lifetime of swindling folk is etched on his face.

After all, he is practiced at making people believe he is professional and business like, that he is crippled and in need of support, that he is scrupulously truthful (with his oft-repeated, reverse psychology mantra “The only thing I dislike is dishonesty” – is he convincing others or himself?), that he is above all else a thoroughly decent person.

Despite being a dyed-in-the-wool bastard, Roy has immense charm and chutzpah. You might not like him, but you’ll love watching him move. He enjoys his ‘profession’ and you’ll enjoy seeing him in action.

My god pal Win Hughes was sat beside me watching the film. She gives the movie 3/5 stars and said:

This is a good movie with some very watchable performances. Apart from the two big star names, Jim Carter and Russell Tovey Also put in great supporting turns.

The twist can be half guessed but there is a good emotional punch from the denouement. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This movie is a third time outing for McKellan and director Bill Condon, who wielded the megaphone duties for the sublimely entertaining Gods and Monsters (1998) and Mr Holmes (2015).

For more about The Good Liar, see the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: Bill Condon. 1hr 49mins/109mins. BRON Studios/Creative Wealth Media Finance/New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. (15)

Producers: Bill Condon, Greg Yolen.
Writer: Jeffrey Hatcher.
Camera: Tobias A. Schliessler.
Music: Carter Burwell.
Sets: John Stevenson.

Helen Mirren, Ian McKellan, Russell Tovey, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Jim Carter, Mark Lewis Jones, Lily Dodsworth-Evans, Phil Dunster, Michael Culkin, Laurie Davidson.


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