Until more recent films like ‘Unfaithful,’ ‘Black Book,’ and ‘Lust, Caution’ managed to reinvigorate the ailing erotic thriller genre, I thought flicks like ‘Fatal Attraction’ and ‘Basic Instinct’ had covered everything there was to cover (or uncover, as it were). However, favorable critical reception, awards recognition, and box office success have given the genre new life. It even seems what was once populated with actors trying to boost their careers is now getting more attention from A-list talent. Take ‘Deception’ for example. Normally, I would have shrugged off such a film as yet another bleak sexcapade made to appeal to videostore regulars, but since serious actors like Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, and Michelle Williams graced the cover, it made me legitimately curious. I found myself wondering if ‘Deception’ was something more than another tired Skinimax thriller.
When a young accountant named Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor) inadvertently switches cell phones with an amiable but arrogant lawyer named Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman), he stumbles into a high-class sex club populated by wealthy executives and hardworking businessmen and women. While sampling its membership, McQuarry falls madly in love with a personable young woman (Michelle Williams) who seems to genuinely understand him. However, when the girl is kidnapped, he quickly learns that his “accidental” induction into the exclusive club was actually a part of an intricate con. To save her life, he has to endure the threats of his old chum Bose, elude a suspicious detective (Lisa Gay Hamilton), and commit a serious crime.
If it weren’t for a trio of fine performances, ‘Deception’ would be a complete waste of time. As if the title itself didn’t already clue you into the fact that double-crosses will abound, early scenes in the film make it clear that Jackman is up to no good. We see the confused reactions of bystanders who aren’t a part of his con, we can tell he has no real connection to the company he appears to be working for, and it’s easy to deduce exactly what he’s after. It’s unfortunate too. Without the heavy-handed title and the premature clues, I would have been completely surprised by the second act twist. What would have appeared to be the story of a man’s bizarre journey into a modern underworld would have suddenly, and shockingly, transformed into a tale of a man struggling to survive the wiles of a dangerous criminal. Instead, we’re subjected to predictable developments, underwhelming reveals, and a series of ludicrous plot holes that threaten to unravel everything first-time director Marcel Langenegger is haphazardly piecing together.
But there’s a bigger issue. Cell phones usage aside, ‘Deception’ is the sort of film that could’ve easily been made in the late ‘80s with Michael Douglas and Richard Gere. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, its script fails to deliver any compelling characters, and I had a hard time sympathizing with such a gullible loser as McQuarry. The entire film feels like a stage play clumsily hurled at the big screen -- the sort of low-key, character-centric suspense thriller that could be pulled off with three, minimalistic sets. As much as Langenegger wants us to feel as if we’ve stumbled across a vast subculture of casual sex addicts, the scope of the story is too restricted to be as sprawling or intense as he would like. Essentially, the film is an actor vs. actor vehicle (much like the recent ‘Sleuth’) that doesn’t have the patience or the poise to truly live up to its potential.
Sadly, ‘Deception’ is a familiar retread of dozens of erotic thrillers that dominated the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Yet it fails to titillate, surprise, or intrigue its target audience in any way. I enjoyed watching McGregor and Jackman engage in a battle of wits -- I even thought Williams delivered a far more nuanced performance than any other young actress would have given -- but I couldn’t help but feel that such a strong trio of actors was let down by the inexperience of a first-time director and a painfully transparent script.
Regardless of how you feel about the flick itself, ‘Deception’ features a spectacular 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that is a sight to behold. Colors are rich and vibrant, allowing primaries to pop against deep blacks, and enabling blood to be put to particularly effective use. Better still, skintones are warm and natural, contrast is spot on, and fine detail is sharp and wonderfully textured. It’s a cinch to see everything from the stitching in Jackman’s expensive business suits to the grime covering the exterior of a back-alley restaurant. To top it all off, I didn’t notice any significant artifacting, source noise, or crushing, and edge enhancement and DNR are nowhere to be found.
If I have any complaints, it’s that grain tends to abruptly spike at times, a mix of digital and film cameras lead to slightly different visual aesthetics from scene to scene, and thick shadows sometimes obscure background detail. Of course, since each of these issues can be attributed to the original print rather than the technical transfer, they’re not much of a distraction. All in all, ‘Deception’ looks fantastic from beginning to end and boasts one of the better BD transfers of the year.
Normally an atmospheric, conversational film like ‘Deception’ wouldn’t task a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track with a lot of responsibility. I’m pleased to report that isn’t the case here. Yes, dialogue dominates the soundscape, but I was continually taken by the intricate ambience and eerily convincing interior acoustics of the soundfield. While such subtle sonics could have easily produced a front-heavy bore, precise directionality and swift pans manage to transport the stuffy office buildings of the film into your home theater. I could hear distant chatter, the hushed whir of printers behind closed doors, and the carpet-muffled footfalls of passing workers. Dynamics are fairly impressive as well. The film’s score is aggressive and bass-driven while high-end tones are crisp and stable.
Still, LFE support seems to favor the soundtrack and weakens during scenes without any music. Prioritization also isn’t the best on the market, leaving a few soft-spoken lines competing with the remainder of the soundscape. All in all, ‘Deception’ sounds a lot better than I was expecting. Fans and audiophiles alike should be more than pleased.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Deception’ includes all of the supplements from the standard DVD, presents the video content in high definition, and even features a hefty PiP track comprised of exclusive material.
’Deception’ is an inept and obvious thriller that proudly displays its twists and turns… long before the film actually twists and/or turns. As a result, the plot is predictable and the story developments are terribly transparent. Thankfully, the Blu-ray edition features a gorgeous video transfer, an unexpectedly strong DTS HD Master Audio mix, and a generous collection of supplements (that includes a lengthy, exclusive PiP track). In the end, the movie is a mess, but the disc itself is one of the better discs Fox has put out this year.