There’s something about a good thriller movie that really gets to me. It makes me feel antsy and like I’m on the edge of my seat trying to figure out where the storyteller is trying to lead me before I’m actually led there. Those movies that successfully keep the mystery ahead of you without a predictable twist are among some of the best movie experiences that you can have. Bill Condon’s The Good Liar has an incredible mood and amazing acting, but sadly, the overarching plot just falls apart.
From the very first second of this movie, the mood is set. Condon sets the stage with a fantastic title card and eerie music. From then on, the film is a slow burn mystery of everyone’s true intentions. The movie, which is from Nicholas Searle’s book of the same name, follows its promise of keeping a suspenseful ambience throughout its runtime. We as the viewers are peeking into two lives and trying to piece together what on the surface seems to be a simple meeting of potential elderly lovers after losing their spouses, but actually becomes a more wicked intentioned ploy. With ease, the film never let up on what a thriller is, and I truly enjoyed a lot of the crumbs that I was fed through the story.
As mentioned, the plot of “The Good Liar” follows around Betty (Helen Mirren) and Roy (Ian McKellen) from their first meet up through an internet dating website and further into a potential relationship. Character motivations are very much on a rollercoaster as you see hypocrisy seep its way more and more into the relationship.
With the promise of being a thriller, for the most part everything about the film follows in that, although nothing is groundbreaking or shattering. Subtle hints are laid all around the film to provide that gratification when things are discovered, that is, until the final promise of the film falls flat. The dominoes this thriller sets up were so well done until the last third of the movie. It felt like the writer knew their story could only go so far so they decided to throw in a hard curveball around the end to try to shock us and feel like we didn’t truly catch on to things.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The main focus in this movie lays mostly on Mirren and McKellen with only Betty’s grandson Steven (Russel Tovey) taking maybe a small spotlight away for a few. The chemistry between Mirren and McKellen is fantastic. The subtle facial impressions and speech patterns they follow from their very first eye contact to the end really make the tagline “Read between the lines” an actual thing that you, as the viewer, should be doing. Even when motivations become more clear as the movie goes on, side characters in the film will show a bit of doubt and second-guessing that allow the leads to work even more twists into the viewer’s head.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
This is an unfortunate category. On one end, the score is phenomenal. My very first note about this film was that the musical transitions not only set the tone and pace, but they really blend so pristinely into the story. I was incredibly happy with how gorgeous and mysterious the music ended up being. With that said, for some reason, the audio and dialogue felt very unbalanced. The audio mixing ended up making it difficult to understand what some characters were saying, and it could just be a small issue with me being someone unfamiliar with European accents, but I felt like I couldn’t hear what was going on a lot of the time. I had to plug what I did hear together and go along with what the characters were doing. It wasn’t difficult, but it took me out of the movie a bit more. This is a hard category to grade because if the music had been even a tiny bit more forgettable, I’d throw this into spilled, but I’m going to keep it at half just because of how much I loved the music.
The film is set in the late 2010s, and while that wasn’t necessarily a major focal point, the settings were. The home sets are a place of seldom and peace where we can try to reassess where the characters minds are beginning to fall into, but in between we are taken to other countries, offices, and subways, in an almost archaic mirroring of what the relationship looks like from the outside. I had no faults with anything here.
The Good Liar does what it sets out to do, but ultimately the way it plays out is so strange and peculiar that I left wishing the script was polished up a little more. I hold thrillers to a higher standard because the storyteller is setting a challenge to the viewer, to sit back and let them tell a story that will catch you off guard. I was caught off guard by the story at the end, but not for the reason that they had intended. Still, I loved the performances, I loved the mood, and I had a good time regardless. A little more love and care put into the story would’ve thrown this much higher on my favorites list, but with the shakiness, I could only say I liked it as a whole, versus what would’ve been a “loved it.” By all means, check this out, but don’t expect this to be anything more than a usual thriller movie.