Trying to milk the conman narrative by Richard Jones

A look at The Good Liar (MA 15+)

liarYou’d think with mega-stars Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen in the two leading roles a movie focussing on rip-offs and cons would be a sure-fire hit. Well, almost but not quite. It’s a near miss with some intriguing off-shoots.

McKellen plays Roy Courtney, a master conman whose core speciality is ripping off comfortable to well-off widows. Mirren is Betty McLean who is sitting on a three million pounds bankroll, an irresistible lure to McKellen’s Courtney. So how do this couple meet up? Well, they’re both accomplished users of a dating site – a site for people of a certain ‘advanced’ age.

After discarding their internet dating site’s phony aliases, they gradually build up a relationship over dinners and lunches in London until one day Roy almost collapses because of a gammy knee. He’s forced to use a walking stick to get around so a compassionate Betty eventually invites Roy to share her very comfortable – if a tad sterile – suburban home. It’s here one evening over dinner he meets Betty’s grandson Steven (Russell Tovey) who’s immediately suspicious of Roy’s interest in Betty.

A suspicion well founded, we discover, when Roy bounces into a London strip club – minus the stick – to meet up with his crooked accountant mate Vincent (Jim Carter) and several associates.

Vincent’s schemes involve getting the target and Roy to place their respective bankrolls into an off-shore joint account. Each party would have access to it, but of course Roy would empty out the account before disappearing for good.

Despite the movie being set in 2009 our two protagonists are proficient on iPad-type money transfer tablets which actually didn’t come into existence until later in the 2000s. A minor glitch. Roy and Vincent’s scheme sounds fool-proof until one day on a Tube station Roy unexpectedly meets up with one of his recent rip-off victims. This person is a very irate and very loud middle-aged male, but Roy is able to deal with him without any physical altercation or fisticuffs. Think tube platform, rapidly approaching train and a convenient walking stick handle – very useful in entwining a threatening assailant around an ankle.

Director Bill Condon then takes us into the backgrounds of Roy and Helen, conveniently sited in Berlin where Steven acts as their German language interpreter while they visit historic landmarks.

We find Betty was one of four sisters, her father was a World War 2 industrialist and Roy – also German – was her English teacher.

The two main protagonists are teenagers mid-war before Roy went on to act as an interpreter for the British military as Hitler was heading towards defeat. Condon uses this digression to show us Roy and Betty’s wartime and immediate post-War pasts, a somewhat jarring interlude mid-movie.

Anyway, by 2009 Betty has some serious tricks up her sleeves as well. Steven’s research has revealed all sorts of secrets about Roy.

And then there’s the scratched and slightly suspicious BMW in the suburban street which drives off whenever Roy goes outside to investigate. Vincent has prepared papers for Roy and Betty to sign. What Roy doesn’t know is that Steven has paid Vincent a visit and informed him that if the rip-off goes ahead Vincent faces a lengthy jail term.

So Condon sets the scene for the final iPad touch-offs with Betty declining at the last moment to transfer her portion of the agreed sum. But that’s not the end of it. Unbeknown to we viewers Betty is, in reality, a duplicitous character in her own right with several tricks up her voluminous sleeves.

It’s an interesting movie. The two main characters play off on each other superbly.

But don’t bother comparing it with an Alfred Hitchcock thriller such as Rear Window, or Vertigo or even North By North-West.

The Good Liar doesn’t quite cut it although I drove home thinking what the master Hitchcock might have done with an identical storyline and details.



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