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'The Good Liar' movie review: The Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen show

Veteran act: A still from The Good Liar

Veteran act: A still from The Good Liar  

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Not so much a thriller, the film, despite its stellar cast – stays predictable

Bill Condon’s The Good Liar opens with all ingredients of an adorable romcom – two old people, chatting on, what they call, a “computer service”, sharing their life stories of dead or estranged children, and finally asking each other out on a date. But the film is not about finding love in the twilight of your life, but the opposite. It’s about using ‘love’ as a trap to extort money and wealth, which is what you’d expect people in their youth to do. This is where the film has a captivating premise, to begin with – why would you use companionship as a booby trap to acquire wealth, when you know you are going to closer to mortality?

There is a very obvious graph to this cat-and-mouse chase, which the film makes no efforts to steer away from. The problem with The Good Liar is not that it’s too predictable as a thriller, but that it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. But in its predictability, there is still some charm, and that is mostly to do with veterans, Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. The two have to pretend like they are in love, yet take a step back when needed. Then they have those moments when they are using their old-age as a crunch, and at times, defying their age. Both Mirren and McKellen are seemingly aware of how performance-oriented this film is, which at times, could be more suited for stage, as an adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel of the same name. With that awareness, the two actors are measured yet unafraid to have their big moments. What helps them is the natural, dramatic and crisp dialogues, which could equally suit a grandma and a con artist.

The Good Liar
  • Director: Bill Condon
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter
  • Story line: Two senior citizens meet on an online dating platform but one of them is out to scam the other.

It’s always heartening to see senior actors take centre stage in a cinema hall, and not confined to a demographically-conscious Netflix universe. What Mirren and McKellen bring to the table as actors, filmmaker Bill Condon fritters away with his lazy visuals. When the film enters Berlin, the images offered are as rudimentary as photographs clicked by a transiting tourist. The German connect to the film is quite thought-provoking but given the riveting history of the city, and the possibility that lies therein, the usage of Nazi times and war in the narrative is too straightforward and presented in one giant chunk. Even though I haven’t read Searle’s novel, the film, prima facie, appears to be a faithful adaptation to me. The linear, three-act structure could have been shaken up, and the filmmaker could have done a bit more of his homework and not rely solely on seasoned performances.

The film also has a ‘by the way’ approach of storytelling, especially in the climax. Elements that find a fleeting mention in some parts of the film are explained as ‘oh, and remember that?’. More than the spoon-feeding, it’s the lack of layering or insight into the characters that bother me. You have perfectly laid out answers for why they did, what they did, at the end of the film, but it’s hardly satisfying because you are never given the scope to question or interpret. If only the storytelling matched up to the finesse, sophistication and efforts put in by the two main actors, we could have ended up with a thriller to grow old with.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 10:03:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/the-helen-mirren-and-ian-mckellen-show/article30122385.ece

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