Wait until you can stream it…
The opening credits aptly summarises the film. The credits are typed on a loud typewriter. It sounds as tired as it is cliched. Yet, it looks good. The lighting is striped and slanted. It looks like a street lamp illuminating a wall on a dark street. It looks good, despite being quite boring and unexciting. (It is also seemingly irrelevant, as none of the main characters write, and both of them are tech savy enough to be using a dating app in the very next scene.)The Good Liar fits this description too. It is remarkably well polished, but there is very little to excite.
It goes without saying that the performances from the two leads are the film’s strongest assets. Ian McKellen, in particular, offers a splendid performance as Roy Courtnay. The way he changes from sweet to callus is as masterful and expertly controlled as one would expect. It is a joy to watch. Helen Mirren is also superb. Seeing these two masters of acting together for the first time is a good reason to come and see this film.
However, the rest of the film fails to maintain interest. Like the opening credits, it plods along slowly and without demanding attention, despite looking good. There are some creative shots, particularly depicting McKellen. The camera dollies in and out of his face at one point, and arcs around it in the next. The action in this film is well-choreographed, particularly the struggle for the gun, or the scene in the butchers. Scenes like this prove you do not need an bombastic score and fast paced editing to build tension (although, the score in this film is stimulating and memorable, as it should be in a thriller). With its two stars and interesting cinematography, you would think this film would work.
Yet, it does not. There are too many plots and twists for genuine interest to truly develop. The best demonstration of this, without spoiling the film, is the characterisation of Courtnay. One minute he is a violent gangster like figure. The next he is a sly con man. Whilst a good opportunity to demonstrate McKellen’s range, it feels like two characters rolled into one. Also, these plots depicting Courtnay as a violent criminal do not satisfactorily tie in with the main plot: the scam. This scam is then turned on its head by a twist. You do not see this twist coming, but is that because the story is well-told or because, by the end, you struggle to care?
This film is well-polished, with great performances and an appealing style about the cinematography. The score is thrilling too, and there is a good idea for a plot twist in there. Sadly, the rest of the film does not hold up. Perhaps a focus on the main plot would have helped make this film more enjoyable. It feels cluttered and plodding. The best liar of them all seems to be the marketer, for convincing the world this would be a memorable film.