Does anyone else feel like they need a change of pace? The coronavirus crisis has us constantly connected to the media, fixated on any updates in a historic pandemic that has touched us all. In other crises, we had means to escape the stress by going to entertainment venues, but in the present crisis, those have to come to us. Over the next few weeks, I hope to give some hints as to which of those to embrace — and which to avoid like the … well, you know.

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to watch two films which did have theatrical runs and are now available on demand for rental or purchase. The first and best of these was The Good Liar, starring Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, and Jim Carter. Can a con man tell when he’s being conned?

Roy Courtnay (McKellen) operates the long con, both in the business sector and in the lonely-hearts world. After a life of crime, Roy’s looking for the big score, along with his partner Vincent (Carter). When he comes across Betty (Mirren) it seems as though his goal is nearly in sight — but does Betty have her own con operating, and is it longer than Roy’s?

The Good Liar’s plot is almost impossible to review without spoilers, but unfortunately, the trailer gives some of them away. We know going in that Betty has something up her sleeve, which makes us a bit more skeptical than Roy, who’s getting sloppy in more ways than one. However, we don’t know exactly what game Betty is playing, just as we don’t actually know everything that Roy has going on, either.

Suffice it to say that the reveals we do get to enjoy through the movie are rather stunning in their own way. A couple get telegraphed early, but the true backstory comes as a shock, as it is hardly foreshadowed. The pace and the story keep the audience fully engaged, and the resolutions of the various threads offer their own satisfaction.

The best part of this film is, of course, watching Mirren, McKellen, and Carter work together with good material. Carter has somewhat less to do but makes the most of it, while McKellen and Mirren are both splendid in their cat-and-mouse game. Russell Tovey gives a good performance as Stephen, Betty’s suspicious grandson, and Mark Lewis Jones does well in a smaller role as one of Roy’s accomplices — or is he?

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film from beginning to end, even when the plot springs its (unpleasant) surprises on the audience. Using the Hot Air scale for films already on home theater platforms, The Good Liar gets a 4:

  • 4 – Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD
  • 3 – Worth a rental price or pay-per-view
  • 2 – Wait for it to come on a TV channel you already get
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

The Good Liar gets an R for its realistic violence and presumably for its adult subject matter. There’s no nudity but there is some sexual violence, and it’s not going to be appropriate for young teens who are in lockdown with you.

Next up, Bombshell brings us the very familiar tale of the sexual-harassment scandal at Fox News and the downfall of its architect, Roger Ailes:

The title Bombshell does double duty in this tick-tock retelling of Ailes’ (John Lithgow) ouster. It refers to the revelations about Ailes’ conduct as well as his business model for selecting on-air talent. Bombshell follows three main characters through the crisis at the network, two of them real-life, now-former anchors Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), as well as one composite female character, “Kayla Pospisil” (Margot Robbie).

Unlike The Good Liar, it’s not really possible to offer spoilers for Bombshell. This played out too publicly and for too long for anyone to be surprised at the outcomes. Instead, it operates more as a character study of the people who worked at the network, and not just those who lead the film. That seems to go a little overboard at times, although Kate McKinnon does a good job of playing a closeted lesbian Democrat who wound up at Fox’ office, and who has a certain lack of intestinal fortitude.

In this case, the performances are what makes or breaks the film. The best of these is Theron’s portrayal of Megyn Kelly, which is almost spooky in its accuracy of her voice, appearance, and manner. Theron’s Kelly is torn between the loyalty she feels for her employer and even her boss Ailes, and what she knows happened to her and others. Kidman’s Carlson lacks a bit of her real-life counterpart’s joie de vivre, but considering the period in which this takes place, understandably so. Carlson comes across as steel-willed and smarter than anyone credited, especially at the end, where she finally gets vindicated. Allison Janney gives a good performance as Susan Estrich, who represented Ailes, but Lithgow’s left with not much to do except for physical handicaps and creepiness. There isn’t much subtlety to his performance, although that may be a function of playing Ailes. (Julie Zann said later that the film let Ailes off too easy.)

The composite Kayla, however, almost feels like a cheat in the context of the performances of real people from Theron and Kidman. Not a cheat from Robbie, who does a terrific job in the role, but in the contrivance of its inclusion. Nearly everyone of note at Fox News at the time gets name-checked, and not in pleasant ways. Neal Cavuto and Jeanine Pirro come across badly, James and Lachlan Murdoch come across well, and fellow victim Rudi Bakhtiar (Nazanin Boniadi) barely gets any attention at all. In this motif, a composite character is an odd choice, especially one that gets freighted with demonstrating the worst of Ailes’ predations.

Nevertheless, the movie works as a whole, and Theron shines most brightly within it. It might not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely worth some investment to access it now. Using the Hot Air scale for films already on home theater platforms, Bombshell gets a 3:

  • 4 – Buy the Blu-Ray/DVD
  • 3 – Worth a rental price or pay-per-view
  • 2 – Wait for it to come on a TV channel you already get
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

Bombshell is rated R for sexual overtones, language, and a couple of mature-audience-only scenes that don’t show nudity. It might be worth having teenagers watch this as an understanding of where boundaries need to be drawn, but a scene between Robbie and McKinnon probably will have some parents drawing the line at 17.

By the way, Megyn Kelly provided a review of sorts herself when the film first premiered. If you missed this in early January, watch it now to hear what rang true for the women who really lived this story and still are feeling the damage from it. Let’s give them the last word, as Kelly said, because they deserve it.