Tag Archives: B-


“It’s deeper than it looks,” one of the characters intones at the close of “The Good Liar,” Bill Condon’s suave, sophisticated adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s 2016 novel. The line might be accurate in terms of the lake being referred to in the line of dialogue, but it’s certainly not reflective of the movie, which is a clever but shallow clockwork contraption about grifting, double-crosses, buried secrets and revenge. But it’s made pleasurable by giving us the opportunity to watch two masters of their craft—Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen—sparring with one another.

The film—written by Jeffery Hatcher and directed by Condon with his customary smoothness (aided by Tobias A. Schliessler’s excellent widescreen cinematography and Virginia Katz’s expert editing) and set in 2009—falls into two roughly equal parts. The first concentrates on Roy Courtnay (McKellen), a charming old con-man whose expression can turn from delightfully mischievous to definitely sinister with the blink of an eyelash. His usual game is to bilk naïve investors like greedy Bryn (Mark Lewis Jones) in spurious get-rich schemes, in which practice he’s aided by his long-time partner in crime Vincent (Jim Carter, from “Downton Abbey”) and other helpers, hired as needed. It might all seem fairly innocuous, except for the marks, except that when he’s threatened with exposure Roy can suddenly turn very nasty indeed, as Bryn will learn.

Roy has a sideline as well. He romances wealthy widows on an online dating service and then takes them for their savings. His latest victim is Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), who falls for his line almost immediately. Feigning a bum knee, Roy persuades Betty to invite him into the guest room of her modest suburban home, and he becomes a permanent guest, despite the suspicions of her hostile grandson Steven (Russell Tovey). Before long Vincent has entered the picture, posing as a financial advisor who suggests that the elderly pair put their savings into a joint offshore account to maximize profit and minimize tax liability.

More and more the focus shifts from Roy to Helen, who becomes the central figure of the film’s second half, especially after she and Roy take a trip to Europe—something she and her late husband had always wanted to do. While stopping in Berlin, where Steven, a historian by trade, shows them around, revelations occur about Roy’s stint in British intelligence there after the war. In extended flashbacks we see him (played as a young man by Phil Dunster) partnering with a West German officer named Hans Taub (Laurie Davidson) to track down ex-Nazis—an association that will have consequences for them both.

It would be unfair to say more, but one can observe that the shift “The Good Liar” takes at this point might not just strain one’s credulity (specially over the timeline) but one’s patience as well as the untruths that have filled the narrative up to this point come tumbling out. The aim is to do a number on the audience that would rival the best of Hitchcock, but you might think that it’s more reminiscent of second-rate Christie instead.

Still, the picture is carried over its rather grim final act by the professionalism of Mirren and McKellen, who manage to make even the most glaring implausibilities palatable, especially when they’re served up with all the finesse Condon and his crew—including composer Carter Burwell—can muster. When everything has been tied up in a tight (if somewhat unpleasant) bundle, you might complain of the second-hand quality of the result, but still marvel at Mirren’s ability to combine matronly elegance with steely resolve, and McKellen’s to move from impishness to malevolence with equivalent skill. Among the supporting players, Carter’s air of grandiosity is perfectly suited to Vincent, and though both Tovey and Jones come on a bit strong, there’s compensation in the work of Nell Williams and Spike White as two youngsters whose part in the story must remain unexplained here.

“The Good Liar” doesn’t equal the previous collaboration between Condon and McKellen—the remarkable “Gods and Monsters” from 1998. But thanks to its stars, it’s a relatively enjoyable, if lower-class thriller.


Edmond Rostand gets “Shakespeare in Love” treatment in “Cyrano, My Love,” Alexis Michalik’s strenuously cheekily reimaging of the birthing of his most famous play, but the result is a somewhat soggy French soufflé, still edible but hardly delectable.

In Michalik’s highly fanciful retelling, Rostand (Thomas Solivérès) is introduced as a failed verse playwright desperate for success, his financial distress a matter of concern to his supportive wife Rosemonde (Alice de Lencquesaing). Fortunately he has a friend in renowned actress Sarah Bernhardt (Clémentine Célarié), who recommends him to equally flamboyant actor Constant Coquelin (Olivier Gourmet), an impresario always looking for new material to star in (and backers to provide production costs).

Rostand is pleased to have a chance at recouping his reputation, which is increasingly dim in comparison to that of Georges Feydeau (Michalik), but he’s flummoxed for a plot. Fortunately Honoré (Jean-Michel Martial), a sophisticated bar owner, is on hand to recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac, the seventeenth-century poet and swordsman, as a subject. (In reality Rostand had wanted to write a play about Cyrano for some time, but so what?) Coquelin is taken with the basic idea, but needs a finished work quickly—to premiere before year’s end.

Fortunately Rostand’s imagination is piqued into action by his friend Léonidas (Tom Leeb), a handsome actor who’s fallen for the beautiful costume designer Jeanne (Lucie Boujenah) but is tongue-tied in her presence. Rostand impulsively offers a few lines for him to say to her—in what’s presented as a sort of audition for the play’s balcony scene—and gets the notion of the noble man with the bulbous nose feeding dialogue to a man who is in fact his romantic rival—since he too loves the maiden called Roxane. In an example of life imitating art (or is it the reverse?), Rostand becomes enamored of Jeanne—but as a muse, not a lover, though Rosemonde comes to suspect differently. (Mistaken identity also comes into play.)

The comedy of the script derives from the harried writing of the play, with poor Edmond grabbing ideas from chance occurrences and bits of conversation he encounters as he goes (as well as Coquelin’s insistence that he have a sword-fight scene)—at one point he even takes inspiration from a meeting with Anton Chekhov (Micha Lescot) in a brothel (where both are just innocently waiting for friends who are customers, it should be noted)—while Coquelin must overcome a string of problems to stage the ever-changing piece. Among the complications are the egotism of Maria Legault (Mathilde Seigner), the diva enlisted to play Roxane at the insistence of intrusive backers (Marc Andréoni and Simon Abkarian), and Coquelin’s expectation that the cast will include his son Jean (Igor Gotesman) despite the fact that the bulky young man seems unable to learn lines—or speak them intelligibly when he does.

Of course, the premiere becomes a near-catastrophe, with government bureaucrats intervening to prevent the show from going on, money-men demanding the return of their funds, and Jeanne having to step in for an injured Maria. The result is frequent chaos on stage, presided over by harried manager Lucien (Dominique Pinon), which the audience apparently doesn’t notice at all, according the play its historic rapturous approval.

Michalik’s movie will work best for viewers who know “Cyrano” fairly well, since apart from the occasional quotation and a few brief scenes shown as part of the premiere performance, there’s not much of it found here. Unfortunately, “Cyrano de Bergerac” may be familiar to most viewers, especially in America, not from any of the films made of it (the best-known being Michael Gordon’s 1950 adaptation, which earned Jose Ferrer an Oscar, and Jean-Paul Rappenau’s 1990 version with Gérard Depardieu), but from Steve Martin’s 1987 updating, “Roxanne.” Many will have to take the genius of the work more on faith than on the evidence provided here.

Anyone willing to do that, however, will find things to enjoy in “Cyrano, My Love.” The production design by Franck Schwartz, costumes by Thierry Delettre and cinematography by Giovanni Fiore Coltellacci contribute to absolutely luscious visuals. And while much of the cast—Solivérès, Leeb, Boujenah, Lencquesaing—is merely adequate, it’s difficult to resist the pleasure provided by Gourmet’s extravagance, and, on a lesser level, that of Seigner and Pinon. Their exuberance goes a long way in holding our interest, even if the editing by Anny Danché and Marie Silvi, and the score by Romain Trouillet—along with Michalik’s hectoring direction—keep nudging us in the ribs about how funny the farce is.

Harvey Weinstein was able to push “Shakespeare in Love” into the Oscar winning circle against “Saving Private Ryan”—still one of the most shocking upsets in Academy history. One can be certain that “Cyrano, My Love” whatever its charms, won’t be winning any prizes in next spring’s ceremony. But though a bit flimsy and pushy, it’s an agreeable enough confection.