October 17, 2008
How can a film starring three marquee names like Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams get an extremely limited theatrical release with very little publicity? Collectively, they have appeared in some serious moneymakers: McGregor with the Star Wars films, Jackman with the X-Men films, and Williams in Brokeback Mountain (2005). When a studio has this little faith in a film featuring these actors there’s something seriously wrong with Deception (2008).
Jonathan McQuarry (McGregor) works for one of the biggest accountancy firms in New York City and is doing an audit at a powerful downtown law firm. One night, while working late, he meets Wyatt Bose (Jackman), a slick lawyer, and they bond over a marijuana cigarette. Jonathan is the shy, bookish type who likes to work with numbers and is drawn to the charismatic Wyatt and his confident demeanour.
On his day off, Jonathan hangs out with Wyatt and gets a tour of the lawyer’s rich and privileged life. To Jonathan, Wyatt lives an exciting life: great job with access to beautiful women. He’s everything that Jonathan is not and this is what draws the naive accountant to the lawyer. Jonathan accidentally swaps phones with Wyatt and answers one of his calls. This results in a sexual encounter with a gorgeous woman (Henstridge).
Jonathan finds out that Wyatt is involved in an elite anonymous sex club of powerful people. Naturally, Jon gets drawn into this provocative subculture and along the way meets an alluring, enigmatic woman known only as S (Williams). He becomes infatuated with her and they end up breaking the rules of the club by having a conversation and not sex. Plot twists ensue in typical thriller fashion as no one is who they appear to be.
Ewan McGregor is not quite believable as the naive voyeur who gets sucked into a shadowy subculture. He’s done too many adventurous, charismatic roles in films like Trainspotting (1996) and Velvet Goldmine (1998). Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, is well cast as a cunning con man that turns another man’s life upside down. It’s a deliciously amoral role for the actor to sink his teeth into, which he does with gusto. Michelle Williams has come a long way from the wholesome girl-next-door in Dawson’s Creek to graduating to more mature, adult roles in films like Brokeback Mountain and this one. She looks gorgeous and displays a vulnerability that is very attractive.
Deception, with its polished style and rich, beautiful people having sex, evokes the kind of kinky for the mainstream films Adrian Lyne made famous in the 1980s and 1990s with the likes of Nine and a Half Weeks (1986) and Indecent Proposal (1993). It also has the same lack of substance and dose of pretension. Instead of adopting the glossy look of commercials as Lyne did, director Marcel Langenegger rips off Wong Kar-Wai with sets drenched in the same greens, reds and yellows straight out of In the Mood for Love (2000) and utilizes many of the same composition of shots as Michael Mann’s The Insider (1999) and Collateral (2004). Ultimately, Deception is a very superficial thriller that looks nice but lacks any real substance – a flashy parlor game, nothing more, nothing less.
There is an audio commentary by director Marcel Langenegger. He points out that the two office cleaning staff members in the film’s opening scene are happy because they are in love . . . and having sex in the bathroom after hours?! This kind of pretentious logic certainly explains why the film is as unoriginal as it is. And this pretty much sets the tone of the rest of the commentary as Langenegger waxes philosophical like a bad film theory professor with such gems as, “The visual motif for Jonathan is inspired by the Excel spreadsheet.” And this is said without a hint of irony. Yikes.
“Exposing the Deception: The Making of the Film” is your standard, yet well made, promotional featurette with cast and crew soundbites mixed with clips from the film. The screenwriter claims that he was inspired by psychological thrillers from the 1970s. Early on, the film was plagued by script problems and did not have much of a chance getting made until Hugh Jackman came on board and became a producer in addition to starring in it.
“Club Sexy” examines the private sex club subculture that really does exist all over the world. Apparently, there are all kinds of rules and layers to these groups. The screenwriter says that he wanted them to tie into the themes of the film.
Finally, there are three deleted scenes with optional commentary by Langenegger. The first one was nixed by the studio because they didn’t like the tone of it – two men talking in a bathroom. Jonathan meets two hustlers in another scene that explains how he gets a fake passport later on. Finally, there is an alternate ending that is more ambiguous in nature but the studio wanted a safe, more neatly resolved Hollywood ending. The focus was on Jonathan, which makes more sense, and is much better than the one used in the final film.