The Good Liar

At the Movies Blog

I was so excited about this film. The trailer was so handsomely put together, and con movies are right in my wheelhouse. My favorite movies of all time include The Sting, House of Games (David Mamet), and Criminal (John C. Reilly). Yet as fun as con movies are, it’s hard to make them great. Mamet’s Spanish Prisoner was a tad disappointing. Soderbergh (who was heavily involved in Criminal) didn’t impress me with his Ocean’s movies. And don’t even get me started on the Will Smith/Margot Robbie flick Focus. But how could you go wrong with Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen? 

This is an adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel, done by Bill Condon. That worried me, since he’s the guy who gave us the Twilight movies, as well as Kinsey, Mr. Holmes, and the Fifth Estate (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls were both good, albeit overrated). 

The story begins with two older actors we all love meeting from a dating website, where both of them told a few little white lies. Yet we know Roy (McKellen) has a few bigger lies he’ll be telling her.

So begins the cat and mouse game. The biggest problem is that my wife and I both figured out the dupe early on (truth be told, she figured it out, whispered it to me and I immediately knew she was right). The problem lies with how preposterous it all was. And I’m not just talking about the third act, which was a bit over the top. I had a hard time buying much of what was happening. For example, the way that Betty’s (Mirren) grandson is so suspicious of Roy so early on. And when he walks in on them at breakfast and she’s getting ready to sign things over to him with a stranger at the table…just seems so ludicrous. 

Yet that doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying these two folks ply their trade. Any time you can watch two great actors on screen, your time isn’t wasted.

It’s just a shame that the movie becomes such a mess. There were flashbacks to Nazi Germany that made me feel like I was in a totally different picture (and made me think of two great movies — The Debt and Remember).  It also made me wonder why either of these two would derive enjoyment from going to the movie theatre to see Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds

I also wondered why, in a scene late in the movie, one character tips their hand a bit by pointing something out in a painting. The other person gets a worried look on their face. It makes you wonder…why the person would put the other in that situation. What if that put a halt immediately to the jig you were setting up? [I had the same complaint in the terrific Usual Suspects, when Kevin Spacey tells Chazz Palminteri a story at the end of the movie that almost gets him caught].

There were about four other things that didn’t work for me, but I’ll just mention one more. There were scams for large amounts of money using iPad type devices to transfer funds from one bank account to another. They look like a big Texas Instruments calculator from 1981 (the movie takes place in 2009). I have to assume this is a device that exists. Surely they didn’t make up such an unusual thing just for the film. It just makes me wonder why anybody would use it. You’re telling me someone is going to just push a button, and deliver $800,000 to a mutual account, and they’re going to trust you because you show them the same device showing that you did the same thing?

It also seems that Roy should’ve toned down his charming demeanor, as I believe an Oxford professor would have seen this as Eddie Haskell-esque, not debonair. It all starts to straining credulity.

Perhaps I’ve just seen too many con movies over the years, because the screening audience I saw it with, loved it. They broke out into applause at the end, and while walking to my car, a couple next to me was excitedly talking about how they got duped and how much they loved it.

So don’t let me talk you out of seeing it, even though I can only give it 2 stars out of 5.


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