I think it’s fair to call Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren ‘legends’. In fact, I might go as far as calling them ‘national treasures’ such is their longevity, prestige and, most importantly, talent.
So a film that combines these two talents on screen for the first time is a recipe for something special, with the right director and script that is, as the two leads are certainly not lacking in experience or skill.
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Sir Ian McKellen in the past; he brings a real sense of old-school gravitas in a way that is now sadly dying out. He’s also shown himself to be an extremely versatile performer, and the same can be said of Dame Helen. So seeing them advertised together made me optimistic of a good result.
Brian and Estelle meet online, except not really. Neither is really who they say they are, and as a romance blossoms between the two septuagenarians, suspicion grows about Roy (McKellen) who is hiding man secrets of a dark past.
What I liked most about this film is it starts small and contained, then opens up its narrative later on. It starts as two elderly widows meeting for a date, and quickly develops into an intriguing tale of lies and identity, with a central theme of trying to figure out who someone truly is.
Bill Condon, the Director, is no stranger to working with McKellen having directed him twice before. First in 2015’s Mr Holmes, and again two years later in the remake of Beauty and the Beast. The three films share a certain ‘homely’ feel I can only attribute to the directors vision, wherein the story feels comfortable in a homely setting, with simple but effective broad strokes. He uses very little visual symbolism, but does utilise extremely effective framing, giving us hints of a characters true nature.
What I will say about The Good Liar is that it’s a hell of a lot more complex than it first looked. On first glance it seems like a run-of-the-mill story about relationships in later life and old-school criminals, what it actually is though, is a tangled web of backstory and events that would shame an Agatha Christie story. It’s not strictly speaking a whodunnit, but it shares the same DNA as one.
Because of this, I found the film to be a very enjoyable experience, much more so than perhaps I anticipated. I was expecting to be charmed by a simple story, instead in was won over by a twisting tale, expertly played out by two of film’s most distinguished veterans.
The nature of this film makes it very difficult to review without spoiling its many twists and turns, something I wouldn’t want to do, as the appeal lies in trying to fathom the mystery before the film finishes playing out, and good luck to you, because some of the twists are as unexpected as a Michael Bay Oscar win, maybe to the films detriment towards the end, as depending on your own tolerance for a third-act twist, it may seem like it’s over-reaching and one twist too many, but I thoroughly enjoyed its more unexpected nature.
Acting-wise, it’s not below the high standard we’ve come to expect from these luminaries, I will say I think it’s McKellen’s film, and he’s as good as he’s been in years, still remaining refreshing even in his eighties, but Dame Helen is no slouch, delivering a memorable final monologue with the air of a victorious ice queen that she so obviously revels in.
In conclusion, there’s plenty to like here, a pair of stellar leading performances, competent, if unspectacular, direction, and a twisting script that will leave you guessing right up to the final credits. It taught me once again that one should not make assumptions based on trailers, and reaffirms the importance of going into films with an open mind; a truly surprising triumph, it proves once again the capability of both leading actors, and that their appeal is not waning with age.