Film review: sublime The Good Liar spins a disquieting, spellbinding yarn

After decades onscreen, certified pros Ian McKellen and Hellen Mirren spar for the first time in the delectable The Good Liar

Oscar-winning director Bill Condon — known for glitzier pictures Dreamgirls and Chicago — re-teams with McKellen 20 years after they did Gods and Monsters for this tale of deceit and trickery that feels straight out of a more inviting film era.

Playing an ageing con man and a wealthy widow, this elegant affair shows the two thespians in top form, as each grapples for the upper-hand where the devil truly is in the detail.

McKellen, as career liar Roy Courtnay, is a chameleon, able to shed his feeble skin at any time and gain the presence of a loathsome mobster. The changes are instinctual for his character, allowing McKellen to achieve some fantastic heights.

For her part, Mirren’s Betty assumes a damsel in distress angle right up until the point she doesn’t, and watching the onscreen cat-and-mouse game is a pure delight for any cinephile.

While possibly more of a great dramatic thriller and crowd-pleaser than an Oscar glory picture, that works to The Good Liar’s advantage. With a fantastic supporting turn from Russell Tovey, often cast in LGBTQ+ roles like his turns in HBO’s Looking and Australian drama The Pass, gives a truly impressive performance as a grandson concerned for Mirren’s Betty.

In a picture where every detail matters and the smallest changes and shifts can mean a whole new can of worms, The Good Liar aspires to entertain rather than gain statuettes, and the audience gets one hell of a thriller because of it.

Jordan Parker is a PR professional and journalist in Halifax, and these reviews appear first on his film blog Parker & the Picture Shows.