"Mismatching the delusional with the hopeless," Helen Mirren's character effortlessly quips to Ian McKellen in their recent film The Good Liar, directed by Bill Condon. How right she was. The film would be a nail in cinema's proverbial death coffin because of the total commitment to a tedious and tasteless narrative driven home by two of the world's biggest stars.
One might begin by pondering why Mirren and McKellen—with countless prestigious awards and nominations between them—would stoop to take part in such a poor representation of the seventh art. A money-grab is unlikely, simply because it seems unlikely the film will make much money, if quality is any indication.
The through line of the story is a power play. Roy (McKellen) wants to con Betty (Mirren) for all the money she's worth. Little does he know that Betty has some secrets up her own sleeve. After a death-by-train, an identity switch, and a trip down memory lane of Nazi Germany, the secrets come out in the most anti-climactic way possible.
There is only one feasible and acceptable answer to why Mirren and McKellen choose to plunge headfirst into this bland mania of sex, lies, and Nazis: they wanted to have a fun, crazy story to untangle and play with. Isabelle Huppert as the unhinged, obsessive older friend to Chloe Grace Moretz in Greta springs to mind. After all, the kids shouldn't be the only ones to have their cake and con it too, right?
Well, some things are not mere children's play toys to dredge up for the shock-and-awe factor. In The Good Liar, the use of the Holocaust, World War II, and rape as either incidental or driving forces for the characters goes beyond bad taste. The present-day trip to Germany and the flashbacks to the 1940s are, in fact, uninteresting and unnecessary. And the grand finale "twist" of the film may be viewed as a cheap sucker punch to women.
It's one thing to use those dire circumstances in a story to be taken seriously, where the revenge or payback is justified through the art of telling it. Here, these instances are jammed into the last act of the film as a sort of justification for their vaudeville villainy.
Music also plays a heavy hand in The Good Liar's disappointing portrayal. We don't experience much of a rollercoaster ride of emotion—even with so much plot to wade through—because the musical direction of the entire film is consistently uninspiring. The sound is more akin to the cartoonish mysteriousness of a Scooby Doo episode.
Even worse, powerhouse actors Mirren and McKellen do not even try to elevate the trite script. But then again, what more could Sir Ian McKellen possibly add to a scene of him walking through a strip club to host a meeting of the con minds?
The idea that there is some huge mystery about who is, indeed, the good liar of the two main characters is, frankly, embarrassing. The first two acts go through prolonged, dull pains in order to paint one as the worst of the worst. "Paid cash?" they question, as the proverbial mustache is twirled. Yet any audience with clear eyes will see straight through the hollow characterizations and nonexistent stakes.
Mirren's character reminisces again midway through the film, "All that power, all that confidence, little did they know…" Given what comes to light in the story, it perfectly encapsulates the thought process behind the film itself. The filmmakers likely wanted to make a juicy romp for the elderly-set. Little did they know, they were in fact making one of the more exploitative and boring films ever put to screen.