Ian McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, a medium-time grifter living in London who places an ad in a senior citizen's dating site. Whether or not Roy has used this site before to scam old widows out of their money is not clarified, but can be inferred. This time, the woman who answers his ad – or whose ad he answers, it's also not clarified – is Betty McLeish, played by Helen Mirren. The year is 2009, which seems like an arbitrary date (why not 2019?), but it does eventually become relevant as the story progresses.
Roy and Betty's awkward but convivial first date occurs just before Roy secretly dashes off in a taxi to a strip club in order to do unseemly business with a couple of investors he's about to bilk. While this con plays out, Roy sets a new one in motion: learning that Betty has nearly 4 million pounds saved up, he hatches a plan to woo her, move in with her, set up a joint bank account with her, then drain the account and disappear. Had Betty been played by a dotty old biddy, you might for a second believe that Roy could get away with this. But because she's played by Helen Mirren, you know he won't.
Far from being a pensioner spin on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Good Liar is more dark than fun, with a couple of twists that seek to add social relevance to the story, but which ultimately open up too many plot holes that can't be filled.
Jeffrey Hatcher's screenplay is adapted from the novel by Nicholas Searle; I'm not sure who to blame for all the contrivances, chief among them this: several key plot points involve a device that you could call a "portable ATM" – a computer tablet that looks more like a Speak & Spell than an iPad (which, to be fair, wouldn't be invented until 2010). This device's sole function is to allow people to transfer funds from one bank account to another. Although I've learned that the English used a similar "PINsentry" device at the time, it involved ATM cards and surely didn't move vast amounts of money around as ridiculously simply as the devices in the film do. It comes across as poppycock.
Indeed, The Good Liar is filled with poppycock, and while it's good fun to watch McKellen and Mirren square off against each other, and while Condon shoots his film elegantly, this is one of those movies that makes less and less sense the more you think about it. Which is a shame, given the pedigree of the cast and crew.
As a personal note, this marks the 1,000th review I have written for the Cassava Films site. I wish it was for a more memorable film, but there you have it.