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Sex, Lies, and Accounting
on April 25, 2008
"Deception" is to the thriller genre what a pulp detective novel is to literature: it's a guilty pleasure that satisfies, even though something better is always an option. I never believed that this story was in any way, shape, or form possible, but I certainly had fun watching it. As the title suggests, many of the characters are intentionally giving off the wrong impression, and by the time we discover their true natures, something new is revealed. This isn't to say that the film is overloaded with plot twists; the mystery eventually comes to an end with little confusion, and that's good for anyone who actually wants to follow along with the details. I will say that I was concerned entering the theater, because let's face it--a title like "Deception" makes one wonder just how far it will go to fool the audience.
We're immediately introduced to Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor), a timid accountant for some unnamed firm in New York City. While working late, he meets Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman), an extremely charismatic attorney. He instantaneously gets on McQuarry's good side, first by sharing a joint with him, second by involving him in activities he would never be a part of. They become friends, but it's obvious that something sinister is lurking behind Bose's devilish smile. McQuarry begins to discover this when the two accidentally switch cell phones during a lunch meeting--while Bose is supposedly on a London business trip, McQuarry keeps getting phone calls from women who ask if he's available, believing he's Bose. Feeling emboldened, McQuarry decides to take one of the women up on her offer and meet at a hotel.
And that's when he discovers that Bose is part of a sex club that caters to people interested in one-night stands. McQuarry eventually meets a Wall Street belle (Charlotte Rampling) who states the two basic rules: no rough stuff, and no names. In this seemingly harmless world of casual sex, McQuarry eventually meets a woman known only as S (Michelle Williams). Both are initially uncomfortable because they realize they had met before in a subway station. To alleviate the tension, they break the rules and actually strike up long-winded conversations. They also go on dinner dates from time to time. What they don't do is share their real names. However, McQuarry seems to think that a romance is developing, so it seems likely that all such missing pieces will eventually fall into place.
Then again, maybe they won't. When both stay in a Chinatown hotel, McQuarry returns to his room only to be knocked unconscious by a masked assailant, just as he notices that the bed sheets are stained with blood. He comes to hours later--not only are the bed sheets perfectly clean, S is nowhere to be found. It would seem that McQuarry has unknowingly been drawn into something much bigger than he thought, and what's worse, it has everything to do with Wyatt Bose. I won't reveal who he really is, what he plans to do, why he wants to do it, how he involves McQuarry, and what has happened to S, but rest assured that it's all about as sinister as you expect it to be, and no more. At a certain point, McQuarry accuses Bose of being a liar: "Those weren't lies," Bose says maliciously. "That was foreplay." I can't quote the rest of that line for censorship reasons, but believe me when I say that the next bit of dialogue was oddly satisfying.
The same can be said for the movie as a whole, even if the story is less believable than Michelle William's bleach blonde hair. I found myself caught up in the suspense, the way it slowly built itself before going right to light speed at the start of the third act. McQuarry is much more resourceful at that point, which is expected not only because his life is in jeopardy, but also because he begins the film as a mousy nobody. Then again, I'm not entirely sure he changes by the end of the movie--his love for S is motivating him more than anything else, which is odd considering he little he knows about her, least of all her name. Following her so blindly just doesn't seem logical. But I don't think logic is what the filmmakers were aiming for. "Deception" is a good old-fashioned mystery, adhering strictly to a formula of pure entertainment; chances are you'll find the plot twists more interesting than the coherence of the story.
The same can be said for the performances, which are only as good as this film allows them to be. Jackman isn't much of a surprise here, since his role doesn't call for anything grander than being a villain. McGregor, on the other hand, reveals a refreshing new side to his personality. Being small and meek is a lot harder to pull off than being the tough guy--you need to be shy and vulnerable while making it look like you're desperate to prove something. I sensed that from his character and appreciated it, despite the fact that the story didn't always support it. But since I didn't expect anything more or less than what was delivered, I guess it's okay. I got my money's worth from "Deception," and you will too as long as you're able to suspend disbelief and go with the flow. It's like being a client in an underground sex club--everyone can go home happy as long as no questions are asked.