Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren in a scene from “The Good Liar.”

Never get emotionally involved with your mark. That’s a basic rule in the confidence game.

And that’s the mistake an elderly con man named Roy Courtney (Ian McKellen) makes when he sets out to bilk a wealthy widow, Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren).

The longtime swindler can hardly believe his good fortune when he meets a well-to-do widow online. But it turns out she has some secrets of her own.

The movie is titled “The Good Liar,” a reference to the main skill needed by a professional flimflam man.

Adapted from the Nicholas Searle thriller of the same name, this exhilarating film was directed by Bill Condon, the guy who gave us “Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” and the first two “Twilight” movies. And he has proved he knows how to get the best out of Ian McKellen, whom he directed in “God and Monsters” – winning himself an Oscar in the process.

“The Good Liar” is currently plying its con at AMC Classic Towne Crossing 8, 925 W. Andrew Johnson Hwy.

“Actors make very bad liars,” says Mirren. An assertion that sounds contradictory. After all, isn’t each performance a controlled lie?

“You’d think actors would be great liars,” she explains, “but I’d say they were hopeless liars. Which is why when you see actors lying on screen, you know immediately that they’re lying, because they can’t help but play the fact that they’re lying. So, we had to be extremely careful about making every word we said sound completely genuine.”

McKellen adds. “As someone once said, all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely play in it. It’s what distinguishes human beings from fellow animals, that we are so adept at disguise and pretense. Giraffes don’t lie! A lion is a lion is a lion. Don’t be fooled by a person’s clothes or their hair. This is what this film is all about.”

Everyone agrees that Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren are two of the world’s finest actors, yet they had never shared a screen before “The Good Liar.” (The pair did co-star in a 2002 Broadway production of August Strindberg’s “Dance of Death,” but never a movie together.)

So why this movie? “It starts with the script every time,” Mirren says. “Then the question is, who is it with? Who’s directing? … Your partners in the process are incredibly important ... With director Bill Condon, his work is spectacular. He also happens to be this sensitive, great person. And then, of course, Ian McKellen, who I’d worked with onstage but never in film, he’s one of Britain’s greatest actors. Obviously, I’m going to want to work with him. On a film, your partners are incredibly important.”

And then there’s convenience. “It was very important for me to work in my home town, in London,” Dame Mirren smiles. “The Good Liar” was mostly filmed there.

Shirrel Rhoades is a film critic and former media executive. He previously served as executive vice president of Marvel Entertainment and has produced several movies and documentaries. He was also a senior faculty member of New York University’s Center for Publishing. He lives in Key West, Florida, and Lake Lure, North Carolina. Contact him at

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