With the acting firepower of Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, The Good Liar taps into various levels of enjoyment. It’s great to see the two together and they both overplay their perspective roles in the best English theatre tradition. She with a wink and a nod and he with a bumbling overblown sincerity.
Producer/director Bill Condon has a history with McKellen with Gods & Monsters and Mr. Holmes and does little to rein in his eccentricities. Mirren gives as good as she gets and does so with a thinly veiled look of superiority. With the ad and press campaign for the film leaving little doubt that both participants have something up their sleeves, the real surprises don’t arrive until the last reel reveal.
The twist when it does come, will catch most by surprise as it comes way out from left field. It does however feel a little forced in the context of having so few clues given beforehand. Even with McKellen’s character seemingly having the surest hand during most of the movie, it gives very little information on the cause and effect of his past.
The main satisfaction inherent in The Good Liar comes from the act of watching Mirren and McKellen riff off each. This provides more delight than the revelatory moments inherent in the sting movie genre. As these two grow older, their rare moments together on stage or screen are ones to be cherished.