Judge Mitchell Hattaway asks the eternal question: Where's Short Round when you need him?
This is the story of a secret society of murderers…and of the man who exposed their crimes.
You say you want to see an out-of-his-element Pierce Brosnan try to pass himself off as an Indian? Then I've got just the film you're looking for.
Facts of the Case
India, 1825. Thuggees, cult members who rob and murder travelers in the name of the goddess Kali, are cutting a path of terror across the country. The Thugs strangle their victims, steal their possessions, and bury them in pre-dug pits. William Savage (Pierce Brosnan, Laws of Attraction), a captain in the British military, disguises himself as an Indian and infiltrates the ranks of the Thuggee cult. Savage hopes to destroy this murderous band from the inside, but he soon finds himself in danger of becoming enthralled by their deadly ways and losing his soul to their goddess.
The Deceivers isn't a truly awful film; I'd say it's best described as a very mediocre film almost completely done in by the miscasting of the lead role and some unanswered questions in the narrative.
I simply didn't buy Pierce Brosnan in this role, so I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the film's central conceit (a conceit I imagine is easier to swallow in John Masters's source novel, which was purportedly inspired by true events). Whenever I saw Pierce Brosnan covered in brown dye, I couldn't convince myself that I was seeing anything other than Pierce Brosnan covered in brown dye, so I was constantly wondering how the other characters were so ready to accept him as a member of the native population.
As for my problems with the plot, allow me to list several. Savage is able to join the Thuggee cult in less time than it will take you to read this sentence. He and Hussein (the Thuggee member who helps Savage gain entrance to the cult) simply meet up with the Thugs, at which time Hussein introduces Savage to his cousin (the Thuggee leader), and next thing you know, Savage is part of the group. He doesn't have to fill out an application, there's no interview, nor is there any type of initiation. For a secret society, these guys are pretty open when it comes to accepting walk-ins.
I also don't understand exactly what Savage uses to dye his skin. He's shown applying the dye once, but the nature of the substance he's using isn't made clear. It must be some powerful stuff, though, considering that he can use it once and then walk around India for several weeks without having it fade or wash off. There's a rather contrived subplot involving a woman who plans to commit suttee (widow burning) and Savage's attempts to trick the woman into believing her husband is still alive. This subplot is one of the building blocks of Savage's disguise plan. Savage adopts the name of the woman's missing husband—Gopal—during his infiltration of the Thuggee cult, and will eventually run across the real Gopal, who just so happens to be a Thug. This leads me to wonder why no Thug bothers to mention that Savage shares his name with a missing member of their band. I can't speak for anyone else, but that certainly would have crossed my mind. Then again, I probably would have asked Savage/Gopal why he doesn't have a beard. (Savage is just about the only male character—Indian or otherwise—over the age of ten with no facial hair. He does start to grow a beard as the film goes along, but his smooth cheeks really stick out in the early scenes.) I also wonder why the Thugs don't recognize Savage as the man who had earlier stumbled upon them while they were committing one of their atrocities; Savage was in disguise, and looks exactly the same the next time the Thugs meet him, but no one seems to remember him. Go figure.
As flawed as the story he's presenting may be, I do have some kind words for director Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Meyer keeps things moving along briskly, so while I was never wrapped up in the film, at least I can't say I found it boring. Meyer is no great stylist, but he certainly knows quite a bit about pacing, and it's a bit of a shame that his directorial efforts appear so infrequently (he appears to be concentrating on screenwriting these days).
As I stated earlier, Pierce Brosnan is miscast here. Other than a recognizable face and name, he really doesn't bring anything to his role. (Brosnan's British accent also gets the best of him; it too often crops up during his travels with the Thuggees, although they never seem to notice.) The other cast members acquit themselves nicely, though. Saeed Jeffrey (A Passage to India) turns in a fine performance as Hussein, while Shashi Kapoor (Heat and Dust) does good work as Chandra Singh, the native who first suggests Savage disguise himself as Gopal. Real-life father and daughter Keith Mitchell (Cross Creek) and Helena Mitchell (Maurice) are good in their roles as Brosnan's commanding officer and wife, although both are given very little screen time.
The audio/video presentation is as lackluster as the film itself. The transfer is incredibly grainy, and colors are generally dull and washed-out; these problems are evident in the first shot and continue for the entire film. There's also evidence of damage in the source elements. The audio fares a little better than the video, but it has serious problems of its own. The Dolby Surround track has a nice enveloping soundstage, with rather excellent use of the surrounds, but it too often sounds harsh, shrill, and tinny. (The quality of this presentation is doubly disappointing considering the age of this film; I find it hard to believe better elements weren't available.) The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer.
I've heard good things about Home Vision's efforts in presenting the films in the Merchant Ivory Collection, so I had high hopes for The Deceivers, but the film didn't live up to my expectations, nor did the disc itself. Marginal movie, shoddy presentation—I can't recommend it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
• Theatrical Trailer
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