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Movie Review

Age brings wisdom, they say. But it can also bring loss. And lonleiness.

That’s exactly how life’s ups and downs played out for Betty McLeish. She has experienced quite a bit through her many decades of existence and that’s made her a better and wiser person. But she’d be the first to report that after her husband of many years died, she had a difficult time dealing with being alone.

And so she turned to social media.

She conversed with and met with several men her age, always lying just a little and giving them a false name. But Roy was the first man whom she seemed to click with. He seemed so down to earth and gentle. So kind, self-deprecating and always ready with a smile. And upon their first dinner meeting, he admitted that he too had been fibbing about his name online.

He had been calling himself “Brian.” You know, just to be safe. Betty, who had called herself “Estelle,” understood completely. And so, Brian and Estelle became Roy and Betty and laughed at their similarly cautious attitudes. They then quickly fell into easy conversation and a delightful dinner.

Betty once thought dating sites ended up “mismatching the delusional with the hopeless.” But now she sees how the wisdom of experience can help someone cut through to the truth. And Betty really likes her new friend Roy. She’s convinced that he’s a good man; a good man who truly deplores lies.

So many of the others Betty met may have had ulterior motives: she was a good-looking woman for her age, after all, and far from poor. But those others were bad liars, and Betty had seen right through them.

Roy is different. Roy is a good … a truth teller. Just like Betty.

In fact, Roy is very, very much like Betty.

Positive Elements

Early on, Betty and Roy both come off as good, caring people who are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their growing relationship. In fact, Betty even goes so far as to ask Roy—who has a bad knee and struggles while walking with a cane—to move into her single-story home to avoid his apartment building’s many stairs. However, as the story plays out, we learn that nothing is quite what it seems, and everyone involved may well have ulterior motives for their actions.

Spiritual Content

We see flashback scenes to Germany and WWII and hear conversations that allude to the persecution of the Jews. Someone speaks of actions in the war as being “secrets between you, God, the Devil and the dead.”

Sexual Content

A scene takes place in a strip club featuring topless and nearly naked women dancing on elevated tables. Elsewhere, a teen boy dances with a flitatous teen girl and then tries to kiss her, ripping her dress when she struggles and pulls away.

While Roy and Betty are talking to Roy’s “accountant” friend, Vincent, Betty suggests that people hate talking about their money. She compares it to talking about “sex or going to the lavatory.”

Roy tries to seduce Betty at one point, or at the very least “cuddle” with her for a while. But she turns down his offer. He still talks in subtle, but sexually suggestive tones from time to time (“It isn’t a swollen knee that’s keeping me here,” he sighs, for instance).

Prostitutes stand on a corner beckoning customers. A young man hugs his male partner at a party.

Violent Content

As this story unspools, we witness some surprisingly savage and sometimes bloody scenes.

In multiple flashbacks to wartime Germany, we see several violent moments. A teen boy attacks and rapes a younger girl. (The assault is filmed in such a way that we see some sexual movements as he shoves the small girl into a corner and forces himself upon her, but their lower bodies are kept hidden.) A man has his neck slowly cut by a straight razor. Someone is shot at and grazed by a bullet, while his companion’s face is completely obliterated by gunfire (with the camera looking closely at the bloody flesh-and-bone mess).

In the present, a man is stabbed in the eye and then shoved down on a subway platform; the passing train hits his head, smashing it to pulp. The camera cuts away as a man’s hand is hit with a meat-tenderizing hammer. We hear a story of people being executed and committing suicide. Someone suggests a punishment that involves sexual mutilation and decapitation.

Betty falls over from a small stroke. Later we see her torn up hands after a supposed fall. (She actually punctures her hands on a row of carpet nails.) A man and woman fight. He tackles her and drags her across a hallway, then shakes her with his hand clenching her hair. She stabs him and breaks his finger. An elderly man is beaten (off camera) by two large men. We hear his yelps and cries. Later we see the throttled man and learn that he had a massive stroke.

Crude or Profane Language

The dialogue includes a dozen f-words, one or two s-words and two c-words, along with some uses of “h---” and “b--ch.” We also here the British crudity “b--ger off.”

Roy and Betty go to the movie Inglourious Basterds, and we see the movie poster.

Drug and Alcohol Content

When Betty and Roy fill out their online dating forms, she reports that she doesn’t drink and he declares that he doesn’t smoke, though those are their main vices. In fact, during their initial dinner meeting, Betty guzzles a vodka martini to put that fib to bed. Roy smokes throughout the film; he and Betty drink wine, glasses of hard liquor, champagne and mixed drinks repeatedly. During one stressful scene, Roy sits alone drinking and gets noticeably drunk.

Other Negative Elements

Everyone lies here. We see scams pulled and lies told in the past and present, and some people are badly hurt—both physically and emotionally—because of those deceptive schemes. In fact, one of the film’s driving motivations is pushed forward by a lust for revenge due to a past lie that resulted in someone’s death.

Conclusion

Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen are both seasoned, well-versed actors who have been firing on all cylinders in their craft for a good long time. So when they step on screen, it’s easy to settle in and enjoy their languid movements, their effortless charm.

It should have been just as easy for this film to be a great twist-filled potboiler, something that swirls around you with carefully chosen words and deft, chess-like maneuvers. But The Good Liar isn’t great. In fact, it has more cutting edges and caustic bits than you would expect, or desire.

There are some surprisingly gory moments here. And the pic is diminished by profanity-peppered language and gratuitous nudity. And by the time the story turns to a young girl’s rape in its third act, the whole thing feels preposterous and forced.

It’s too bad Mirren and McKellen couldn’t have teamed up on something better. No fibbing there.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Helen Mirren as Betty McLeish; Ian McKellen as Roy Courtnay; Russell Tovey as Steven; Jim Carter as Vincent; Laurie Davidson as Hans Taub; Nell Williams as Young Lili; Mark Lewis Jones as Bryn

Director

Bill Condon ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

November 15, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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