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The Good Liar

I'm rather fond of director Bill Condon's slippery thriller, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Nicholas Searle's novel. "Fond" is such a quaint, terribly British word, and that simple expression of restrained and polite approval is weaponised to delicious effect by a silver-tongued octogenarian conman in The Good Liar. He hopes to persuade a vulnerable, wealthy widow to part with her savings by creating the illusion of romance with his assiduous words. Everything is, as the scoundrel might say, "tickety-boo" in Hatcher's script, which provides meaty roles for Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren as merciless hunter and unsuspecting prey. Blessed with these formidable acting talents, Condon frequently has little to do other than point a camera at his luminous leads and watch sparks fly as verbal sparring lands the requisite blows. A couple of slickly executed set pieces, including a confrontation on a largely deserted London Underground platform at Charing Cross, ratchets up the stakes, building to an emotionally satisfying and brutal pay-off. Condon, Hatcher and the cast are complicit in the film's lip-smacking duplicity but they don't shamelessly cheat us at crucial junctures when fragmented flashbacks slot sweetly into their assigned place. A year after the death of her husband, 78-year-old widow Betty McLeish (Mirren) takes the plunge and posts her profile on the Distinction Dating website in the hope of finding companionship. Potty-mouthed 80-year-old con artist Roy Courtnay (McKellen) matches Betty's wish list of personality traits and they arrange a tentative first date. Over dinner, Roy learns that Betty lives alone in a secluded cul-de-sac and is fiercely protected by her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey). "He's all I've got," she confides. Employing his twinkly-eyed charm, Roy worms his way into Betty's modest home. "It's like being smothered in beige," he sneers to accomplice Vincent (Jim Carter), who is part of Roy's audacious plan to steal the widow's fortune totalling almost £3 million. While Betty is clearly smitten - "You're the only person on this planet who makes me feel like I'm not alone," she swoons to Roy - grandson Steven is deeply concerned by the hold the old man seems to exert over her. "It's too soon to be getting so close to him!" he hisses as Roy secretly listens in an adjacent room. The Good Liar sensibly relies on the robust plotting of Searles' novel to jettison extraneous dramatic fat from Roy's cold-hearted pursuit of a bumper pay day. Tovey and Carter offer solid support but McKellen and Mirren understandably dominate attention, sharing the screen with fiery intensity for the first time in their illustrious careers. Good things come to those who fondly wait.