Review by Sean Boelman
The Good Liar, directed by Bill Condon and written by Jeffery Hatcher (the duo behind 2015’s Mr. Holmes), is a new drama-thriller aimed at the upscale older crowd. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, the film is able to overcome an uneven script thanks to wonderful performances from Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren.
The movie follows a con man hoping to make one last score to retire as he finds his next mark, a recently widowed woman worth millions, only to find out that he may have gotten in over his head. Ultimately, this film’s biggest flaw is that it is rather predictable. As is typical of the genre, much of the movie is spent building to a big reveal, and for the most part, everything about the film feels rather safe.
What makes this movie so intriguing is that it offers an effective blend of tones. At its core, the film is a thriller, but it is not focused exclusively on suspense. Instead, Hatcher and Condon allow the tension to build up naturally over time, focusing on building the characters and constantly shifting the audience’s allegiance. This sense of unease is what allows the viewer to get absorbed into the story.
The protagonist of the movie has a compelling arc that gets resolved in an unorthodox yet extremely satisfying way. As is the case with many films featuring con men as the protagonists, the movie explores the morality of his actions and presents him in an ambiguous light. However, unlike most similar films, this does not allow the audience to take the easy way out — audiences will be challenged by what they see.
At times, the movie feels like it has a bit too much on its mind, preventing it from addressing some of its themes with adequate depth and nuance. That said, the film does succeed in posing multiple questions about the ideas of legacy that are quite thought-provoking. The movie isn’t too subtle about its messages, but it still manages to feel mostly natural.
McKellen delivers one of his best performances in years as the charismatic con man protagonist. The character requires him to show a large range, with much more emotion and subtlety than he has had to show in quite a while. Unfortunately, Mirren isn’t given quite as much to do in her role, but she does get a chance to play to her strengths in the latter half of the film.
On a technical level, the movie is very strong thanks to excellent direction from Condon, who is extremely talented at building atmosphere. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, helping build the tone and tension. Carter Burwell’s score is also phenomenal, one of the best of the year, giving the film an elegant feel.
Although the script does have a good deal of flaws, The Good Liar manages to be a very entertaining and well-acted character study. This type of intelligent star-driven thriller serves as excellent counterprogramming for the more spectacle-driven fare dominating multiplexes right now.
The Good Liar opens in theaters on November 15.