There are two sides to every lie.
Deceiver is an entertaining film that prominently features the fine art of deception and behavioral dysfunction in this character-driven story. It is part film noir in small measure and psychological thriller in large. In short, it's a film where every character has something to hide—and it's usually of a sinister nature. It is easy to become engrossed in the story as one by one the skeletons fall out of the closet. While the film is straightforward for the most part, there are enough bends in the road to hold your interest and keep you thinking.
Facts of the Case
A youthful prostitute named Elizabeth (Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones's Diary) has been brutally murdered, her body cut in half and disposed of. The police don't have a lot to go on other than a single lead that leaves them with an unlikely suspect in the form of a wealthy heir and Princeton graduate named James Walter Wayland (Tim Roth, Planet Of The Apes (2001), Hoodlum). Veteran detective Edward Kennesaw (Michael Rooker, The Sixth Day, The Bone Collector) and the relatively green detective Philip Braxton (Chris Penn, Reservoir Dogs) bring Wayland in for a polygraph examination.
As the two detectives probe Wayland in their search for the truth, at first glance it appears that he might be complicit in the crime or at the very least has something to hide. Things later get more complicated when the investigators soon learn that their suspect suffers from temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). The cops dig deeper into Wayland's psyche, but they become complacent and think their suspect is about to get caught up in a web of his own lies. Wayland then manages to turn the tables on them in a rather surprising string of plot twists. From there detectives Kennesaw and Braxton find themselves fighting for their careers and to protect the dark secrets that would certainly lead to their downfall if the truth about them ever came out.
Deceiver is co-written and directed by brothers Jonas and Josh Pate—not exactly Hollywood household. The only other film to their credit is the all but forgotten The Grave. But don't let that deter you, since the tale they spin this time out is worthy of some attention.
The chief strength of the story is tension and the confrontations it spawns between cops Kennesaw and Braxton and suspect Wayland. A great deal of the film takes place in the interrogation room at police headquarters; it's a rather dark and claustrophobic milieu, to be sure, and it's a very appropriate setting for a film that explores the darker, seedier side of human nature. While the detectives are studying their suspect, it is not evident to them that they are under examination as well. It all makes for some fairly entertaining and nail-biting storytelling as things build to a head.
But there can be little to dispute the fact that Deceiver is far from a perfect film. The story, while quite coherent much of the time, leaves some gaping holes large enough to drive a Peterbilt through.
First, there is the whole business of Wayland's epilepsy. While I'm no doctor, it seems strange to me that TLE would manifest itself in such a singular way as to have Wayland performing balancing acts on furniture and undressing during seizures. This may well be a very accurate representation, but the story should not have forced the audience to research something like this on its own or to simply take it on faith. On its face, it seems hard to believe and calls into question factual accuracy.
Moreover, the entire notion of a Princeton grad with a near-genius I.Q. level submitting to a polygraph test and intense police interrogation without a lawyer present simply defies belief. It is a sin of omission that is difficult to forgive. Perhaps one can argue that an intellectually gifted and arrogant person such as Wayland might feel he doesn't need the services of an attorney—he's smart, after all, and probably feels he can beat the cops at their own game. But it just doesn't add up given Wayland's great financial means. Another thing that I find troubling is how Wayland manages to dig up dirt on the detectives and use it against them. Forgive me for being such a skeptic, but it doesn't seem likely that a well-placed heir to a family fortune would be so familiar with some of the seedy elements around town.
On a somewhat more minor note is detective Braxton's dossier, which states he has been with the police for two years and formerly worked as a Wal-Mart security guard. It's more than a bit incongruous that a relatively green cop could make detective after just two years, and just as unlikely that the police draw their detectives from the ranks of Wal-Mart security guards. It is inconsistencies along with oversights and gaps in logic such as these that conspire to undermine the film's credibility. There are a few others I could mention, but doing so would give some of the plot away.
I know it sounds like I really didn't think much of Deceiver. On the contrary, while the story has its share of problems there are times when it really shines and delivers the goods. The triangle of tension and deceit between the police detectives and Wayland is pretty compelling stuff. But if there is any single aspect of this film where I find favor in it then it must be the performances. Tim Roth simply steals the show as Wayland. He acts the part in good measure, and as the storm brews between Wayland and the police Roth seems the archetypical intellectual elite: he's vulnerable in some ways yet calculating and devilishly devious in others. Michael Rooker also gives a solid performance as the veteran detective Edward Kennesaw. He brings an unabashed confidence and assurance to the role and the right sense of panic and foreboding when Kennesaw's world begins to fall apart.
In fact, Roth and Rooker very much dominate the film. Rene Zellweger manages to turn in a respectable, if uninspired, performance as the prostitute Elizabeth, whom we learn about during several flashback sequences in the film. However, I think that what we are given of Elizabeth seems a bit out of place. While some of the scenes and story elements in which she appears are important to plot development, they just don't quite fit in with the rest of the film. I keep feeling that it was a part of the movie that could have been done much better.
Deceiver is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, thus preserving the film's original theatrical aspect ratio. The disc is a flipper with a 1.33:1 pan and scan full screen version appearing on the second side. For this review, I viewed this film first on my NEC XG110LC 8" CRT front projector system on a 92" DA Lite unity gain matte screen. Scaling the video to 1280x720, I must say that the image quality was something of a disappointment. The picture was quite soft and suffered from excessive noise in blacks and dimly lit scenes. Image detail seemed muted, with the projected picture suffering from a lack of vertical resolution. After viewing the film on the projector I decided to give the disc a spin on my Malata N996 progressive scan DVD player and Toshiba 50H81 50" Widescreen HDTV set. I noticed the same excessively soft image and lack of vertical resolution. There is very sparse edge enhancement in a few scenes, but I think this is largely owed to the fact that most shots take place on dimly lit sets. As one might expect contrast is relatively subdued, though color saturation is on par given how the film was shot. The film elements were free of defects and artifacts. I did not notice any objectionable compression artifacts during either viewing.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Normally the omission of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS soundtrack will almost always draw some criticism from me. However, Deceiver is a film largely driven by dialogue and not sound effects. The musical score was effectively delivered through my Klipsch reference series front speaker system. So in the end, I feel that a five channel mix, while perhaps nice to have, would have added very little to this film.
There really are no special features to speak of, with the exception of the theatrical trailer. The Spartan packaging of the DVD and the poor video quality tells me that perhaps MGM was not expecting a lot of sales. It's a shame, since it really is a worthy film in spite of my few gripes. I am glad I had the opportunity to see this film and will watch it again at some point in the future.
Deceiver easily rates a rental if you can find it. Otherwise, I give it a buy recommendation since it is the sort of film movie fans will want to watch more than once.
Deceiver is free to go on the strengths of the testimony offered by the story and performances. But the court admonishes the Pate brothers for some sloppy plot holes and MGM for the poor film-to-video transfer.
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