The Good Liar Review: Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen Deserve Better, And So Do You

When a movie with as good of a pedigree as The Good Liar comes around, you can’t help but be excited. With Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen playing around in a game of deception and intrigue, and under the directorial auspices of Bill Condon, it practically feels like an early Christmas gift. But somehow, what should have been a deliciously twisted game of intrigue turns out to be a severely missed opportunity for a sly adult blockbuster.

The supposed chess board known as The Good Liar, based on the book of the same name from author Nicholas Searle, sees Ian McKellen playing the role of Roy Courtnay, a con artist who has set his sights on ill widow Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) in an attempt to fleece her of all she’s worth. As their game proceeds, Roy’s criminal enterprises are revealed to the audience, with a few surprises waiting around the corner.

You’ll Figure Out The Good Liar’s Twist From The First Frame And Wait The Entire Film For The Plot To Catch Up

There are no secrets when it comes to the fact that The Good Liar has a big old rug-pulling reveal waiting at the end of its ride. It’s shown clear as day in the trailer, as it basically tells you that not everything is quite what it seems. So right from the beginning of the movie, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, and the movie takes its sweet time getting to that point, without truly relishing in the enterprise.

When The Good Liar ultimately does drop said shoe, the revelation throws off the pacing of the entire film. Waiting until its final moments to deliver crucial exposition, The Good Liar stops in its tracks for an extended flashback scene that fills in the rest of the story.

If this sequence was just to connect the clues dropped throughout the movie, it would have made sense; but there’s an entire story told by one of the characters that could have easily been leaked out throughout the rest of the plot. Instead, the crucial breadcrumbs leading to the truth that The Good Liar wants you to discover are still a couple pieces from an underbaked loaf.

The Cast Is Delightful, Despite The Failings Of The Material They’re Given

Despite The Good Liar’s failure to craft a compelling mystery, there are still genuine moments that see its actors sparkle. Mirren and McKellen certainly have fun, and that’s the majority of what keeps the movie barely afloat during its almost two hour-long running time. Even when the grand illusion comes crashing down at the end, the relish of these scene partners helps the dreary mystery shine in small doses.

Key supporting roles filled by Russell Tovey and Jim Carter both help balance out the lives of both leads in ways that liven up the scenes they don’t spend together. Carter in particular gets a nice change of pace from his usually stoic nature on Downton Abbey. His chemistry with on screen best friend Ian McKellen serves the usual role of trying to give our heel his friend with a conscience, while also serving as a willing accomplice in his con; and Jim Carter is up to the task.

The Good Liar Isn’t Very Good, Nor Is It Lying To You About What It Is

Simply put, The Good Liar isn’t very good, nor is it lying to you about what it is. It’s a mystery story that doesn’t hide that it’s going to pull a fast one at the end. With the expectation already set from the beginning, there’s not a lot left for this movie to do in way of surprising its audience. With the final twist being a surprise only because it wasn’t properly built into the rest of the story, the entire project wastes the talents of those who put their best feet forward in this particular endeavor.

Every piece of The Good Liar’s machinery has the words “twisted thriller” printed in bold type, and you can almost hear a little voice in the background of each scene telling you, “Oh man, you’re not going to believe what happens next.” If only that voice had trusted the audience to piece things together like adults, and had given them the proper tools to do so.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.