Betty and Roy are lonely senior citizens who meet via an online dating service. The two quickly establish a bond and soon move in together, but things aren’t as simple as they seem. Hidden motives abound as their relationship veers towards something much more sinister…
Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) and Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) meet cute the way most of us connect now: by surfing the net and finally agreeing to hang out for a drink. Betty is a widow, searching for companionship. Roy says he’s looking for love. Such is the hopeful note in which their connection begins. It’s not long before Betty, seeing Roy struggling with his health, invites him to move in with her, despite vocal concerns from her grandson, Steven (Russell Tovey). Betty pays Steven no mind, convinced that Roy is the perfect friend, and soon Roy is set up in her guest room.
But what Betty doesn’t see is the perfectly healthy (for his age) Roy who, when Betty isn’t looking, is out on the town with his crooked business partner, Vincent (Downton Abbey’sJim Carter). The two get up to all kinds of no good and soon start eyeing the naïve Betty and her retirement account. In the meantime, Roy’s feelings towards the kindly Betty grow and he realizes he might not have what it takes to pull off his final con.
I couldn’t wait for this film to come out. Acting titans Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen together on the big screen, teaming up for what looked to be a throwback to classic film noir? Sign me up! The preview brought to mind a modernized Hitchcock-esque thriller – a classy mystery, and a welcome respite from the nonstop played-out reboots that have been dominating theaters. I was convinced I was about to see something unique, and very much looked forward to Mirren and McKellen digging in for a wicked game of cat and mouse.
Sadly, The Good Liar doesn’t live up to expectations, even though Dame Helen and Sir Ian give it their all. As expected, the actors fully commit to their performances; but you can’t polish a turd, even if you’re handed gold.
Where did this fail? The plot starts out strong enough, with Mirren and McKellen’s chemistry smoothing out the more obvious ploys. The screenplay was written by Jeffrey Hatcher (adapted from the book of the same name by Nicholas Searle), who has penned numerous award-winning Broadway plays. And, ironically, that might be part of the problem. The layered story would have easily enthralled onstage but bringing it to life for the cinema doesn’t fare so well. Worse, the climax is so convoluted and ludicrous that the few people in the poorly-attended screening I was at laughed at the big reveal. Needless to say, that surely was not the goal!
The film might’ve been able to pull itself out of this downward spiral if the soggy, long, dark backstory hadn’t been coupled with soggy, long, dark flashbacks. I was willing to sit through Betty and Roy in present day but getting dragged back Roy’s past felt like I was suddenly thrown into a completely different movie – one I did not want to be seeing. At all. Ultimately it created an unenjoyable schism in what could’ve been a fun thriller. Helen and Ian definitely deserve more, and so do movie-goers. (This failure is a particular shame, given that Warner Bros. took a gamble on a few off-genre projects, and this lackluster box office will surely scare them off from taking more chances anytime soon. That means you can say goodbye to a more diverse docket and buckle up for more of the same in coming years.)
The Good Liar is a lesson in missed opportunities, with an ending that somehow managed to be both far-fetched and cookie cutter. The preview promises twists, but the most shocking thing about this is the waste of talent.
[This post originally ran on MovieBoozer.com - hence the site mandated "drinking game" below. They're awesome - follow them for all things fun with film!]
The Good Liar (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Roy lies.
Take a Drink: every time Roy double-crosses someone.
Take a Drink: for every flashback.
Take a Drink: for Betty being a babe!
Take a Drink: for the timeline. Setting the story in 2009 to make up for a screenplay that probably sat around too long before getting made still doesn’t make up for this faulty math.
Take a Drink: every time you feel Carter Burwell’s soundtrack is too obvious.
Do a Shot: for the ridiculous conclusion.
Do a Shot:if you think Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen should scrub this and star in a different project together!
Are there any extra scenes? I doubt it, but honestly I don’t know for sure. The second this slog ended, I bolted from my seat.