By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — Fans of sophisticated films in which noting explodes, besides initial expectations, will appreciate the suspense yarn “The Good Liar” (Warner Bros.).
But, while elegant, director Bill Condon’s sophisticated adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel also is ultimately dark, making this a movie appropriate for grown-ups in more than one sense.
Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are at the top of their game, he playing ruthless British con man Roy Courtnay, she in the role of Betty McLeish, the vulnerable, naive widow living in suburban London on whose fortune Roy has set his sights. Despite the objections of her worried grandson, Stephen (Russell Tovey), Betty gradually falls into Roy’s trap.
Having first made contact though a dating website, Roy goes on to establish a romantic bond and win Betty’s trust. He then introduces her to his partner in crime, Vincent (Jim Carter of “Downton Abbey” fame), who poses as Roy’s financial adviser. Why not combine their assets in a single account to save on paperwork and taxes, Vincent suggests.
Though Betty seems open to the idea, savvy viewers will have sensed from the start that things are more complicated than they appear at first.
Part of Roy’s plan is to convince Betty that he has a bad leg, needs a cane and lives in an apartment at the top of a building that lacks an elevator. All this to persuade her to invite him to move in with her.
Though the two go on to dwell under the same roof, their relationship remains chaste. There is a sequence in which Roy offers to take things further, but Betty demurely declines. Though restrained, their discussion of the matter is not for kids.
Roy, moreover, is not above using force to get his way, as we’re shown more than once. Add the mayhem he wreaks to grim revelations about the past that are integral to the plot and a homosexual couple whose connection is fleetingly treated in Jeffrey Hatcher’s script, and the sum is not a family-friendly one.
Maturity is also required to work through the larger moral question of where exacting justice leaves off and an ethically unacceptable quest for revenge takes its place. The screenplay carefully hedges this theme around with mitigating factors, but some moviegoers may still be troubled by it.
Those willing to accept this drama as pure fiction with no real-world impact, on the other hand, will see “The Good Liar” as that Hollywood rarity: an intelligent source of entertainment powered by excellent performances.
The film contains some stylized but harsh violence, including torture and a discreetly portrayed sexual assault, brief upper and rear nudity, an incidental gay relationship, a same-sex kiss, occasional rough and crude language and references to sexual activity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.