It is hard to believe that Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, a Dame and a Sir who are lions of the British acting class, never co-starred in a movie together before The Good Liar. It seems a natural teaming, and indeed they have proved that onstage, but until now never on the screen. Fortunately, director Bill Condon has fixed that injustice for movie lovers, and the pair are perfectly matched in this new twisty, sensational suspense thriller that’s worthy of Hitchcock.
If Sir Alfred were alive today, I have no doubt that he would have plucked author Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel and turned it into a film just as Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher have done. It is edge-of-your-seat stuff full of twists and turns you won’t see coming — as least I didn’t, and I have seen all kinds of movies like this over the decades although we don’t get to see them much anymore, especially from major studios. McKellen and Mirren are exceptional together, an iconic pair delivering performances that must not be missed.
Without offering spoilers, the plot revolves around Roy (McKellen) and Betty (Mirren), two lonely, elderly and now-single people who join an online dating service, in Betty’s case just longing for companionship after becoming a widow. One thing leads to another and they meet in a restaurant, like what they see, and before long — in completely platonic ways — find themselves sleeping under the same roof in Betty’s house when she allows him to stay over after he injures his leg.
As their pleasant relationship continues we learn more about Roy and the fact that he is a bit of a con who’s not all he presented himself as to Betty. With the help of a friend (Jim Carter), he comes up with a plan to entice the widow to create a joint account with all her money that he presents to her as a great financial deal in which they pool their resources and essentially double their incomes. Somehow this smart professor that Betty is falls for the deal and signs up. Her son Steven (Russell Tovey) understandably is skeptical and does not like what he sees, but it can’t be stopped — not from Betty’s point of view, a woman who has been completely taken in with the charming Roy.
You can imagine what Hitchcock might has done with this setup, and Condon plays this deception game for all it’s worth. He is smart enough to know who he has starring in this, and the filmmaker lets these two old pros run with it. It is a joy to watch acting of this caliber in an old-fashioned style of film that you realize as you are watching has been deeply missed. And isn’t it great for a youth-obsessed industry to put two stars well into their 70s in charge? It doesn’t get much better than this for fans of either actor.
Condon has realized the talents of McKellen for the past two decades after first teaming with him in his Gods and Monsters in 1998, then again in 2015’s Mr. Holmes, both leading roles like this one. Mirren gives as good as she gets, and there is some fine support from Carter and Tovey. This one is a lot of fun.
Producers are Condon and Greg Yolen. Warner Bros releases the New Line Cinema production in association with Bron Creative and 1000 Eyes on Friday. Click the link above to check out my video review, with scenes from the film.
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