Film Review - The Good Liar

Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren star in “The Good Liar.”

I keep finding myself in theaters where I’m one of the youngest folks in the room. I’m not sure what that says about my taste or those around me.

This go-around, it was for “The Good Liar,” a new film starring Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. I suppose it’s meant to be a thriller, and at times, maybe it is.

It’s their first on-screen pairing, and it should be a match made in film heaven. Separate, Mirren and McKellen are both amazingly talented actors, and their film union should be the stuff critics write home about. It took long enough for it to happen, right?

Honestly, it’s a solid outing, but not a very memorable one. I saw the movie on Sunday, and the next day a co-worker asked what I’d seen over the weekend. I honestly couldn’t remember, which probably says a lot.

McKellen stars as lifelong con man Roy. He’s made a career out of swindling trusting women, businessmen and anyone else looking to make a quick buck in an investment scheme. Mirren stars as Betty, a new widow worth a couple million and the perfect mark for Roy.

They meet through an online dating site for older adults, and they click instantly. Despite the protestations of her grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey), Betty allows Roy to permeate her life. She even lets him move into the spare bedroom at her home when his “bad knee” makes it difficult for him to walk up multiple flights of stairs at his home. They even go on a holiday together.

Betty always keeps Roy at arm’s length, though, even when he claims to love her. Again and again, he tries to move in like a senior Casanova, and she basically says the equivalent of “how nice” or “bless your heart.” Yet, when Roy and his partner-in-crime, Vinnie (Jim Carter), come calling with investment papers and ask Betty to create a joint account with Roy, putting the entirety of her estate — 2.5 million pounds — in a joint account, she says “Sure, why not?”

“The Good Liar” is a bit of a slow burn. We see Roy’s side dealings, with Russians and other criminals, and we learn how ruthless he is. When one of his associates dares to ask for a bigger cut, Roy orders his men to crush the man’s hand with a mallet. We see him viciously kill another man, who demanded his money back after realizing he’d been swindled. He’s truly a vile man.

Roy is meant to be charming and elderly when he’s with Betty. He’s agreeable and smiling and even reminds her to take her medicine. Even now, knowing how the story played out, I have to wonder if there was something genuine on his part toward her.

But, it’s impossible to be sucked into that storyline because we know he’s vile. You can practically see the sleaze permeate everything he does.

And yet, there’s something about Betty. Even when she’s agreeing to a joint account, she’s holding back and playing him as carefully as he plays her. They’re each the cat in a cat-and-mouse game, but it’s not thrilling or even fascinating to watch.

McKellen is crafty and devious, I suppose. But, while he might be despicable, he never feels like an actual threat. And, Mirren is fine. She’s not bad or anything. But, for someone who, at 74, could still play a fiery seductress or hold her own against anyone in Hollywood, she just seems a bit blah.

I liken the character to Carol on “The Walking Dead.” We’ve seen her be a complete badass and the hero everyone needed, but when you see her relegated to something less, it’s just lackluster. I say this as someone who hasn’t watched TWD in two or three seasons, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I was interested to see what would happen with Betty and Roy, but I don’t know that I ever cared, which is problematic. The film took a left down Crazy Boulevard as the two faced each other for the final showdown. Unfortunately, the film already had traveled down Odd Boulevard and Say What?! Street, so the ending didn’t have quite as much of an impact as Bill Condon & Co. had probably planned. Instead of thrilling, I just felt a bit sad and perhaps shell-shocked.

Bottom line: If you’re looking to walk down Adequate Avenue, check this one out. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid this outing.

Amanda Greever is a former editor, designer and writer at The Daily Times. She now works in public relations. amandagreever@gmail.com.

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