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"THE GOOD LIAR"
(2019) (Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An older woman begins dating an older man, seemingly unaware that he's really only after her money.
PLOT:
On the surface, Betty McLeish (HELEN MIRREN) and Roy Courtnay (IAN McKELLEN) seem like a cute, much older couple that has met through online dating where their profiles contained seemingly minor and self-protective white lies. According to Betty's overprotective young adult grandson, Steven (RUSSELL TOVEY), she's a former professor who taught at Oxford, while Roy is still dabbling in financial investments with his business partner, Vincent (JIM CARTER).

But little does Betty seem to know that Roy is a con man who's fleeced others for huge sums of money and has now set his sights on her, something Steven apparently senses, what with his distrust in the man and his motives. Not believing that and brushing it aside, Betty continues to see Roy who does seem to enjoy the time he spends with her. As their relationship evolves, however, that fondness, like everything else about Roy, could either be genuine or just another of his ploys as he gets closer to gaining control of her life savings.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Through its long and storied run on TV, "Saturday Night Live" has had its share of memorable characters, the recurring skits in which they appear, and often a catchphrase that makes it into everyday use, even if for just a short duration.

One of those involved Jon Lovitz playing Tommy Flanagan, a.k.a. The Pathological Liar. The skits would always involve Tommy telling increasingly preposterous lies, often punctuated with the old Humphrey Bogart line, "Yeah! That's the ticket." The humor originated from the fact that the character would keep upping the ante in terms of the outrageous "facts" and accounts he'd spew forth, with everyone around him knowing he was lying.

Of course, in real-life bad liars don't usually make it, and I had to let a friendship wane due to the other person ending up always doing something along the lines of Lovitz's character without the humor or punch line. Or did I?

But it's the good liars that are hard to catch in the act and the best often ruin other people's lives and their accompanying bank accounts while convincing them with their well-told and well-staged untruths.

That's part of the fun of the appropriately titled "The Good Liar" that sets the stage from the get-go as we meet our two main characters -- Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) and Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) -- as they engage in little white lies while filling out their profiles for an online dating site.

With that opening sequence, director Bill Condon -- who works from Jeffrey Hatcher's screenplay adaptation of Nicholas Searle's novel of the same name -- has us believing this is going to be a light-hearted con job sort of film where the question will be who's conning whom and who will prevail in the end.

For a while, though, it seems like Mirren's character is going to be the unwitting victim to a ruthless con artist who turns out not to be the quaint, gentlemanly old man he makes himself out to be. And that comes to a head when one of his confederates gets a meat tenderizer mallet to the hand after asking for a greater cut of the action, while another man, now wise to a con he fell for, ends up on the wrong end of a meeting with a subway train.

Despite that, the film still mostly has a fun, escapist air about it (sort of feeling like "The Thomas Crown Affair" and its ilk), where we wonder if Mirren's character will break the veteran of his habit or whether she might have something of her own up her sleeve.

I won't spoil that, but the film does take a decidedly darker turn with a few flashback scenes that provide far more troubling thematic material that might connect to the contemporary story and explain things, but sort of leaves a bitter aftertaste considering the mostly lighter, if still criminally-minded material that precedes it.

Nonetheless, Mirren and McKellen are delightful in their respective roles and that clearly helps mitigate the darker turn that suddenly shows up in the third act. Then again, maybe I'm making all of that up. Yeah! That's the ticket. In any event, you should purchase a different sort of ticket (or two) to watch two veteran performers at the top of their game in a mostly entertaining offering. "The Good Liar" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 11, 2019 / Posted November 15, 2019


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