Tag: Helen Mirren

The Good Liar

tglVerdict: A con trick flick with an ending that doesn’t stick.

Royalty of the British acting talent pool, namely Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren duke it out in a game of intrigue, skulduggery and lies … delivered with the best possible manners, of course. The Good Liar is an adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel of the same name, a story about old people lying to each other (a topic Searle no doubt garnered from his time spent working for the NZ Government).

McKellen plays Roy, an elderly man whose pleasant nature belies his shady past. He is a con-artist who prays on victims seduced by his seemingly harmless age and impeccable manners, but his latest victim, a money-flush widower named Betty (Mirren), proves to be a trickier prospect than he had first anticipated.

Director, Bill Condon, has worked with McKellen before (Mr. Holmes, Gods and Monsters), and with far better results than this misdirected disappointment. What begins as a promising con-artist tale built on two unlikely candidates unravels itself to reveal a disjointed, illogically told farce.

Screen-writer Jeffrey Hatcher (who also worked with Condon and McKellen on Mr. Holmes) has made a dog’s breakfast of his adaptation of Searle’s book. Good mysteries deliver their “big reveal” from a collection of lies and truths. To decipher fact from fiction is the game the audience must play. But when a film throws back the curtain on its mystery without allowing its audience the remotest chance of figuring it out, then there is a sense of cinematic betrayal going on. I can’t mention specifics without divulging spoilers, suffice to say that The Good Liar offers two key twists; The first delivered at such glacial speed, environmental scientists could’ve seen it coming. The second twist is such a head-scratcher that it requires a subsequent lengthy flashback (setup that should’ve come a lot earlier) to explain itself. Not quite an “it was all a bad dream” moment, but it feels like it. Shame, because The Good Liar starts out so well, but in the words of the good Sir Ian McKellen “You shall not pass!” Indeed, his movie doesn’t get one either.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

The Leisure Seeker

tlseeker“I love it when you come back to me.”—it is a seemingly innocuous line but speaks volumes about The Leisure Seeker’s exploration into an elderly couple’s wrestle with dementia.

Based on the book by Michael Zadoorian, Italian director Paolo Virzì has helmed a film that is both playful and poignant and illustrates the importance that memories have on life-long relationships.

An ageing couple, John and Ella, head out on an ill-advised road trip aboard their old Winnebago, or “The Leisure Seeker” as it is affectionately nicknamed.  John (played by a delightfully polite Donald Sutherland) suffers from dementia. The debilitating memory loss that comes with it sees his day continually break down with moments of total confusion. His long-suffering wife Ella (Helen Mirren) is hiding some of her own medical conditions and sees the road-trip as their last opportunity to drive cross-state and knock a few destinations off their bucket list.

Tonally, The Leisure Seeker is a bit of a conundrum.  On the surface, it is a life-affirming road movie bursting with positivity and a lust for life, but this veneer seems to belie the underbelly of some fairly dark material and a couple who are just holding it together. The result is an uneasy tension between buoyant and sombre and its wavering tone renders the film aimless and meandering at times.  And although this mimics John’s wayward mental condition, it is awkward to watch. A conscious decision to shoot much of the film in the fading light of day—while appropriate to the protagonist’s predicament—also makes it no easier to digest.

Thankfully Sutherland and Mirren prop up the film despite its tonal disparity. Mirren’s turn as John’s plucky wife is a pleasure to watch and the two stalwarts of the acting fraternity turn in wonderful performances that exude humour, pathos and a genuine sense of chemistry.

But the couple’s spirited performance can’t rise above a film that covers some fairly depressing material. And although The Leisure Seeker wants to celebrate life, the weight if its subject material creates uncertainty about its convictions. 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald and NZME here.