'Good Liar' movie review: Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren prove age is just a number, in pacy action thriller


The award-winning actors have brilliant chemistry, but Bill Condon's twisty conman film is not an easy watch

Karly Cox |

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In Bill Condon’s The Good Liar, Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) is recently widowed and looking for companionship. She meets charming, twinkly-eyed widower Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) online (old people internet date, too!), and they very quickly form a close friendship. But when Roy’s knee starts to trouble him, and Betty offers him her spare room, her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey) expresses some serious reservations about how fast their relationship seems to be moving.

Steven has reason to be concerned: as the audience learns fairly early on, Roy is a conman who regularly cheats greedy, naive businessmen out of their money, and now has come up with a scheme to relieve wealthy widows of their retirement funds. Guess which widow of his recent acquaintance has a big, fat bank account?

Roy plays the doddery old man, and continues to pretend to be falling for Betty (and she, in turn, starts to drop her guard a little), but as soon as he’s out of her house, he gets back to working on a couple of other get-rich-quick schemes, where his real persona is revealed (leading to some surprisingly gory resolutions). Betty’s future, and happiness, and even safety seem desperately at risk.

But is Roy’s scheme going to be as straightforward as he thinks?

The biggest thrill in this film is watching two actors of this calibre act together. Yes, they are elderly people playing elderly people, but they have an energy and conviction that belies their years. The problem with this verve, though, is you start to feel pretty early on surely Mirren surely cannot be playing such a pushover.

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The Good Liar starts out as a intriguing, very British crime caper, but it takes a pretty violent turn, in terms of both plot and tone, about halfway through. And while Mirren and McKellen are perhaps even more impressive in the second half, the sudden change of pace is unnerving if you weren’t quite sure what you’d bought a ticket for.

The film looks at the power that the truth can have over us, and the life choices we make. It’s not a light watch. But if you enjoy twisty, twisted thrillers, or you are a fan of either or both of these stage and screen legends, you won’t be disappointed. 

Contains scenes of violence and strong language