WHEN A PLOT grabs you by key emotions and then twists and turns and slips and escapes your ability to predict its nuances, you get completely caught in what it has to offer. Bill Condon’s film The Good Liar, featuring stellar performers Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, is not a deep intellectual piece of filmography. Rather, it is a tale of love and cruelty, trickery and comeuppance, as well as very serious games played by very seasoned players, that will keep you on the edge of your chair, as you scour the details – and it will take you home and perhaps wake you up at night, still scouring details in a quest for slippage.
It is here where we meet “Estelle” (Mirren) and “Brian” (McKellen). They’re both in their 70s, have lost their respective partners and are attempting the business of finding companionship or romance through an internet dating site. And all is well and good, until you discover that things are not at all what they seem.
Toss in some truly horrific war memories, a litany of complicated secrets, a life span of con artistry and the boyfriend of a grandson with a penchant for good research; throw truth out the window and you get a plot that is as full of deceit and surprises as Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1972 thriller Sleuth – with a screenplay by Anthony Shaffer – which saw Michael Caine opposite Laurence Olivier in a tale that took cinematic sleight of hand to bewildering heights.
It’s about relieving unsuspecting people of the money they think they’ve put in your safe keeping, as it is about surviving, that is, if you’re a psychopath, and trampling on others’ lives and identities in the process. Above all, it’s about the DNA you can find in hair and the power of lilies. But it is the work’s richness with hairpin bends that will absorb you down to your toes. While at first you may think both these roles are too flimsy for performers of the ilk of Mirren and McKellen, you will quickly realise that there is very little that’s flimsy – or vulnerable – about either of these characters.
This is a perfect film, in short. Not premised on fact. Without advocacy issues or political edges. It’s about a story, and it’s unapologetically the kind of work for which the film industry exists. You will lap up every moment, including all the devastatingly fine surprises.
- The Good Liar is directed by Bill Condon and features a cast headed by Daniel Betts, Celine Buckens, Bessie Carter, Jim Carter, Michael Culkin, Laurie Davidson, Lily Dodsworth-Evans, Phil Dunster, Jane Fowler, Sean Hart, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Mark Lewis Jones, Aleksandar Jovanovic, Tunji Kasim, Dino Kelly, Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Lucian Msamati, Stella Stocker, Athena Strates, Russell Tovey, Albert Welling, Spike White, Nell Williams and Brigid Zengeni. It is written by Jeffery Hatcher based on the novel by Nicholas Searle and produced by Bill Condon and Greg Yolen, it features creative input by Carter Burwell (music), Tobias A Schliessler (cinematography), Virginia Katz (editing), Lucy Bevan (casting), John Stevenson (production design) and Keith Madden (costumes). It released at Ster Kinekor, Cinema Nouveau, in South Africa on 28 November 2019.