At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Good Liar “2019”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Good Liar “2019”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Crime Thriller/Stars: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter, Mark Lewis Jones, Laurie Davidson, Phil Dunster, Lucian Msamati, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Tunji Kasim, Spike White, Nell Williams, Céline Buckens, Bessie Carter/Runtime: 109 minutes

In the world of movie magic, there are excellent slices of cinematic pie, there are great slices of cinematic pie, there are good slices of cinematic pie, and then there are slices of cinematic pie that….well the less said about them the better. That’s the way it has been and that’s the way it always shall be. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because the slice of cinematic pie I am reviewing today, 2019’s The Good Liar is quite the intriguing film to behold. Indeed here is an entry in the crime thriller genre that has pedigree attached to it on both sides of the camera in the forms of film helmer Bill Condon and stars Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren respectively whose names represent emissaries in the arts who are truly first-class in every sense of the word. Yet even with these ambassadors of style and class working on it, the rest of the movie is simply content to be just good enough to work since they correctly surmise that the aforementioned trinity will most assuredly do the majority of the heavy-lifting in order to make the movie work. Yes this movie might not be as twist-heavy as one might expect due to the film choosing to take its time to really make sure the twists are given their proper due, but ultimately The Good Liar still manages to work fairly well as an easy breezy yet still enjoyable entry in the crime thriller genre thanks to the fact that not only are the twists fairly well-done and the resolution particularly satisfying, but also because the 2 stars of this slice of cinematic pie and at least of their co-stars manage to give performances that are no more and no less than the engaging kind that you might be expecting, but not be surprised by since those are the exact kind of performances that they are known for giving time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Based on a book of the same name penned by an author named Nicholas Searle, The Good Liar opens its intriguing tale in jolly ol’ London back in the long gone year of 2009 as we witness a pair of people in their twilight years as they decide to start chatting with each other on a dating service. One of these people we come to learn is a seemingly soft spoken yet honorable and decent man who served in the armed forces at one time or another by the name of Roy Courtnay. The other is a lively and energetic albeit slightly reserved former professor at Oxford by the name of Betty McLeish. Yet despite the fact that the two actually start to become quite close, it isn’t long before we see first-hand that something is not quite on the up and up with good ol’ Roy. That’s because, unbeknownst to Betty, Roy is not who he claims to be. Rather, he is one half of an old school con artist duo who, along with his partner Vincent, has a long and storied history of utilizing false identities in order to get access to people’s funds and then proceed to take them right out from under their noses thus leaving the victim completely and utterly destitute in every sense of the word. It is this last aspect that is particularly worrisome for Betty since, after discovering she has over 2.7 million pounds to her name, Roy has decided to make her his latest “mark” if you will. Yet it isn’t long before Roy discovers that, for all his skill and talent at what he does, this might not be as easy as he initially thought it would be. This is because not only has he started to genuinely care for Betty, but also because it turns out Betty may or may not have a secret or two of her own as well. Thus what started out as a simple plan has now turned into a game of cat and mouse where not only is neither side entirely sure just who is the cat and who is the mouse, but that also promises to reveal some long buried secrets and potentially change the lives of both its participants forever….

Now before I go any further, I guess it should be said right off the bat that this is not your typical thriller. By that I mean that unlike an entry in the thriller genre that is thrilling from beginning to end and which throws it’s thrills and twists at the audience at a significantly high rate of speed, this one is content with being a slow burn in every sense of the word. Yet this honestly is not that big of a deal breaker for me. This is because by parceling out its thrilling moments to say nothing of the twists and curves in the road, the movie really allows you to get to know the characters a little bit better than you might otherwise thus giving this movie a degree more in the way of characterization than a lot of films of a similar ilk to this. With that being said though, I can honestly say that although you might be able to guess one part of where this film is headed, you might have a bit more difficulty in figuring out the 2nd part. Suffice it to say then that, without going into spoilers, when this movie is ready to give you its big aha moment it does manage to go to quite a fairly dark yet surprisingly emotionally potent place in order to give it to you that I promise you will not see coming. Thus for a movie that is a part of the thriller genre it may be one that gives off the appearance of seemingly being quite tame and in many respects it is, but this is still a movie that should be seen and will most likely be appreciated more by those moviegoers amongst you who can handle both the slow tempo, the intricate characterization of the two leads, and the deliberate placing of everything rather than one who wants to be thrilled every single minute of the film’s runtime more than anything.

Ultimately though, a large if not quite significant chunk of the reason that this slice of cinematic pie turns out as well as it does must undoubtedly be attributed to the work done by Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren. I mean in regards to McKellen it must be said that whilst I do think his portrayal of iconic wizard Gandalf is easily a film career highlight, I also think he delivers great work when he decides to portray characters that are, for all intents and purposes, morally dubious if not outright villains with his turns as Magneto in the X-Men movies and Richard of Gloucester in 1995’s Richard III being prime examples. Suffice it to say then that the same is true of his role as Roy Courtnay in this film. Indeed it might not be the most outright menacing role McKellen has ever played with a few instances sprinkled throughout this slice of cinematic pie’s runtime proving to be the exception, but there is a subtle air of malice about this guy throughout that literally seems to hint that this is a truly dangerous guy who, if you threaten to expose him or his work, has no limits to how far he will go in ensuring that doesn’t happen. Suffice it to say then that McKellen does a wonderful job at giving this character both the gravitas and the ruthlessness he so desperately needed in order to work on the big screen. In regards to the gravitas, the same can also be said about Helen Mirren and her work in this as Betty McLeish aka the “mark” to Roy’s con games. Yet I do find myself praising the work done by Mirren in this just a bit more than McKellen’s. This is because whereas McKellen, his character, and his character’s machinations are known to the audience for about 95% of this slice of cinematic pie’s 109-minute runtime, Mirren has to keep her character surprisingly slightly aloof if not downright enigmatic until about 15-20 minutes or so before the movie ends for…..reasons. Yet even when faced with playing a character who is supposed to keep the other main character, and by extension the audience, largely at bay, Mirren still does a wonderful job at giving Betty both a touch of dignity, a splash of class, but also a subtle sense that perhaps not all is as it seems with her character either thus making for a wonderful performance in its own right. Finally, it might not be the biggest role in the world, but I am also quite fond of the work done in this by Jim Carter as Roy’s dear friend/ loyal partner in his criminal schemes Vincent. Yes it’s a role that honestly I feel anyone could have played (though Jim Broadbent might have been a good touch), but I think Carter (on loan from the set of Downton Abbey) does a good job at making the role his own whilst injecting a sense of humanity as well as class to the proceedings…..that and it was just nice to see him work with McKellen again following their time working together on 1995’s Richard III.

All in all is The Good Liar the best entry in the genre of movie magic known as the thriller to ever grace the silver screen? Oh Good Lord No. Not even close. With that being said is this the worst thriller that I have ever gotten the chance to see in my time as a film reviewer? Again nowhere even close though as to what film actually does hold that honor I am still wondering that myself. Be that as it may be, The Good Liar is a wonderful example of the kind of cinematic pie that can be classified as “good but not great”. Yes in many respects this film may play out like a run of the mill thriller that you have seen countless times before, but the accessible runtime, and well-placed twists and curves in the road to say nothing of the delightful and electric performances given by Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren as well as their co-stars all help to make this one slice of cinematic pie part of the best kind of relax and lose yourself in a movie for a couple of hours give or take movies there are out there today. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Good Liar “2019” a solid 3 out of 5.