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When you're in this world, no one is who they seem, and everyone is playing the game.
"How many people have you had sex with?"
Facts of the Case
Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor, Big Fish) is a perfectly ordinary accountant living a perfectly ordinary life. Like so many cinematic individuals living perfectly ordinary cinematic lives, Jonathan quickly finds himself an unusual situation that disrupts everything. He meets a charming lawyer named Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman, The Prestige). Wyatt laughs heartily, offers Jonathan some weed, and the two start talking shop. Before you can say "bromance," Jonathan and Wyatt have become best buddies. They laugh heartily a lot together, play tennis, and talk some more shop. Then Wyatt has to leave on a business trip to London, much to the disappointment of Jonathan.
After Wyatt heads overseas, Jonathan discovers that he has accidentally switched phones with his business buddy. He gets in touch with Wyatt, who tells Jonathan not to worry about it. "It's my phone, feel free to use it until I get back," he laughs heartily. Soon after, Jonathan receives a strange phone call from a woman. "Are you available tonight?" He says that he is available, but that he's not the man she wants. The woman doesn't seem to care. She meets up with Jonathan and has her way with him. Jonathan is quite startled and thrilled by this turn of events, and soon discovers that he has been introduced to a secret sex club for rich people. There are rules involved: no business talk, and no names. Otherwise, it's a way for anonymous wealthy swingers to keep a revolving door of sexual partners.
With great enthusiasm, Jonathan starts calling lots of different numbers on Wyatt's phone. He has sex with a wide variety of women (including Charlotte Rampling!), screwing along gleefully until he meets someone simply named "S" (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain). Jonathan met her once before, in a subway station, and he feels a strange attraction to her. Suddenly he doesn't want to be a swinger anymore, he just wants S. Is true love just around the corner, or is Jonathan getting into something dangerous?
Deception is a trashy, seedy, grubby little B-movie hopelessly trapped inside of a pretentious international thriller. This material could serve as the launching point of a wild and crazy ride (I concur with Judge Brett Cullum's suggestion that it should have been handled by Brian De Palma), but it fails miserably here due to the self-important presentation. If this were presented with some spark and energy, it might have been a lot of fun. Unfortunately, director Marcel Langenegger treats it as if he is remaking Last Tango in Paris. He wants to artfully study each scene and moment, carefully examining every angle of each new development. That's great if you've got something worth studying. If not, you're simply drawing attention to the fact that the story is a stinker.
Boy, this story is a stinker. It feels like something that David Mamet might write if he were a D-grade hack. There are about a dozen twists and turns along the way, and I sincerely doubt that any of them will surprise you. I could see every single development coming three miles away. Langenegger telegraphs these twists in a painfully awkward and obvious manner, as if he wants to give audiences a hint. It's not necessary. Everything that happens here is so familiar that we probably would have figured it out even if the film weren't trying so hard to drop clues everywhere. The film begins as a laughably cheesy story about a normal guy immersing himself in all sorts of sexual decadence, and then transforms into a vanilla thriller featuring scenes of men in suits attempting to transfer funds from one account to another on their computer. Ooh, exciting. It really does feel like two completely different movies, and neither is very good.
The primary attraction here is the opportunity to see Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, and Michelle Williams in action. Deception has a fine cast, but they don't fare very well here. McGregor is an easy actor to miscast, and here he can't find a way to make his sheepish businessman particularly interesting. He is unconvincing during his plunge into naughty sexual behavior and boring the rest of the time. Jackman is even worse. He plays a character that seems one-dimensional even when the film explicitly reveals his second dimension. Finally, Michelle Williams simply doesn't have much to do other than look like a woman carrying around a lot of emotional baggage. I've seen plenty of very good performances from all three of these actors, but they're a long way from their A-game in this film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The nicest thing I can say is that Deception spotlights Dante Spinotti's terrific cinematography with a superb hi-def transfer. The film looks great, with lush and immensely attractive images being presented frequently. By the way, Spinotti has a cameo 10 minutes into the film that served as the first painfully obvious clue. Anyway, blacks here are very deep, and the frequently dark images have a surprising level of clarity. Flesh tones are well-balanced and facial detail is just superb. It's a shame that such a good-looking movie isn't attached to a stronger story. Sound is solid, though I found Ramin Djawadi's ambient score to be incredibly uninteresting. I didn't really care too much for the supplements. The two featurettes (one standard making-of piece, one about sex clubs) are only occasionally engaging, and the director's audio commentary spends far too much time simply describing what is taking place onscreen. The picture-in-picture feature doesn't stay active enough to make it worth checking out. The deleted scenes are interesting, though, and I'd recommend giving them a look if you decide to see the film.
Don't let the film's polished look and fine cast deceive you. Deception is an often laughably bad thriller that feels way too long despite a running time of only 107 minutes.
Guilty. Very guilty.
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