The old Hollywood adage of the Eighties and Nineties went that if you made a big studio blockbuster film, you could do one ‘for yourself’ straight after. Those days feel long gone, but arguably, director Bill Condon has resurrected them with his new thriller.
He comes to the movie off the back of the $1bn-grossing live-action Disney remake of Beauty and the Beast, and while he originally was going to jump to a horror remake after that, fate landed him at the door of The Good Liar. It’s telling that in the current cinema environment a thriller with two named actors in it feels like something a little different.
Truthfully, too, it is. Here’s a big studio-backed film, led by two stars over 70 each, and it’s a flat-out delight to spend time in their company. Sir Ian McKellen, then, is Roy, a mysterious character who on the one hand comes across a little doddery and charming, and on the other is a conman looking for his next score. He quickly finds himself in the company of Dame Helen Mirren’s Betty, and a slow relationship between the pair starts to develop.
As do a few other plot threads too, with Russell Tovey coming into the mix as Betty’s son Steven, and Jim Carter – fresh from topping the box office in the Downton Abbey movie – as Roy’s cohort Vincent. Both are excellent too.
But Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher – adapting the novel by Nicholas Searle – wisely keep the focus firmly on the two leads. And here’s where Condon really delivers. He does something we rarely see in big movies: he takes his time. He pauses for silence. He allows space in his frame. Crucially, he lets his two leads absorb the gaze of the camera to deliver a pair of knockout performances.