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‘The Good Liar’: Even Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen can’t save this convoluted con game

The Big Twist Reveal is one of the least surprising in recent motion picture history.

Unaware that he’s a con man, rich widow Betty (Helen Mirren) takes up with the charming Roy (Ian McKellen) in “The Good Liar.”
Warner Bros.

When the 76-year-old Henry Fonda and the 74-year-old Katharine Hepburn starred in “On Golden Pond” in 1981, it marked the first time these cinema legends had appeared in a film together.

In fact, they hadn’t even met until that point. Crazy!

It’s equally surprising to learn 80-year-old Ian McKellen and 74-year-old Helen Mirren are sharing the big screen for the first time in the sophisticated con game thriller “The Good Liar.” How has that not happened before?

Alas, while Mirren and McKellen are as wonderful as you’d expect, especially in the early going when their respective characters are just getting to know one another, even these two legendary talents can’t overcome a convoluted, unfocused and increasingly implausible storyline — including one of the least surprising Big Twist Reveals in recent motion picture history.

“The Good Liar” is a well-crafted and meticulously appointed piece of work. It’s evident a great deal of attention has been paid to every last detail in every scene, from the precise and measured dialogue to the artwork on the walls to certain wardrobe choices to some interior color schemes offering subtle hints about what lies ahead.

Yet for all its airs of sophistication and cleverness, this is a movie that consistently requires ostensibly smart people to make incredibly dumb choices, just to keep the plot rolling.

McKellen’s Roy is a veteran con artist whose latest target is Mirren’s Betty, a widowed Oxford professor who has put away quite the tidy sum — nearly 3 million pounds—over the years.

After connecting online through a dating service, Roy and Betty agree to meet in person.

Betty is hoping to make a friend and find some companionship. She believes Roy has the same goal in mind. Little does she know Roy is setting her up for a long con in which he will charm and manipulate her, sweep her off her feet, gain her total trust — and drain her bank account before vanishing into the mist.

It’s what Roy does, and he’s really good at it, in no small part because he has never felt even a trace of empathy for any of his victims.

Roy and Betty are in the nascent stages of their courtship when Roy fakes an injury, which prompts Betty to invite him to stay at her suburban London home while he recuperates.

Betty’s fiercely protective grandson Stephen (Russell Tovey) is suspicious of this mysterious interloper who has so quickly insinuated himself into Grandma’s life, but she brushes aside his warnings. Within a few weeks, Betty has agreed to open a joint banking account with Roy, which gives him access to her entire savings.

By this point, “The Good Liar” is already on shaky ground, but when the relatively straightforward, present-day story expands to include some poorly staged and confusing flashback sequences set in Germany in the 1940s, all hope for a legitimately constructed, dramatically satisfying mystery-thriller is lost.

The more we learn about the main characters, the less we believe they’d do the things they do.