Studio: 20th Century Fox
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams
Directed By: Marcel Langenegger
Running Time: 108 minutes
Ratings: Canada – 14A, USA – R, UK – 15
Lonely accountant Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGregor) lives only for his work, until a charismatic lawyer (Hugh Jackman) introduces him to “The List” — a decadent, sexual playground for New York’s power elite. But, an affair with a mysterious stranger (Michelle Williams) will expose him to yet another world… one of betrayal, treachery and murder!
Ok. So Deception isn’t the most suspenseful or thrilling installment in its respective genre. It certainly is not anywhere near worthy of being given “erotic” as part of its description. Aside from one quick sex montage, there isn’t much erotica involved. Also, for the most part, the plot is rather formulaic and predictable. As I’m sure many have pointed out before me, it is not the most compelling of theatrical presentations. Most of the strength and weaknesses of this production fall squarely in the category of performance.
Hugh Jackman fits into his role nicely in the beginning. A suave and dapper lawyer type who has some compassion for a fellow man who is less than fortunate when it comes to social graces. The relationship between himself and Ewan McGregor’s character is something that isn’t explored too often in cinema. And it is kind of fun to watch. However, Jackman quickly falls out of sync with the plot as his more menacing side does not seem to really fit the needs of the story. For someone who supposedly has such influence over the course of the plot, he certainly is non-chalant about it. I would imagine that a person in his position would be more passionate about his ultimate goals. Michelle Williams is perfectly cast as the femme fatale who will ultimately drag the genuine nice guy to his moral undoing. She plays both the seductress and the emotionally vulnerable girl next door (go figure) types to perfection. My only complaint is that she has far too little screen time. Her character could have been far more instrumental in raising the stakes for the film’s poor protagonist. Ewan McGregor, as is often the case, is a shining star in a sea of mediocrity. His performance is nothing shy of perfection. As his character becomes more deeply involved with the plot action, he grows beyond his previous limitations. It’s always enjoyable to watch the less fortunate surpass their prior inhibitions in order to become strong enough to upset his nemesis… especially without compromising the nature of the character and becoming the James Bond type.
Aside from these performances there are a few production details that have influenced my review of this film as well. The first being that the overall plot is fairly predictable. Obviously the structure of the film is very formulaic and the ending can be quickly realized during the first 15 minutes of the film. However, sort of contrary to this point, there was a fairly good section within the middle of the film where directorial decisions had my mind flip-flopping. I found myself second guessing my original hypothesis and trying to figure out who exactly had the most power over the situations. I was even wondering where exactly the inevitable betrayal was coming from. And this is where this presentation was saved from being an abysmal failure for this viewer. Although it is formulaic and predictable (in the grander scheme), it did manage to keep me guessing. That is not an easy feat this day and age when it comes to anything deem “suspenseful” or “thrilling.” As a result, it is a combination of Marcel Langenegger’s direction and Ewan McGregor’s performance that make this film a “should see” in my humble opinion.
Crave Factor – 7
Commentary – It is really strange how Marcel Langenegger can come across so well spoken and well versed through this commentary when every other piece of contribution of his within the extra features is rather mundane. Here is where the director gets to show that he wasn’t just lucky in creating a rich visual and metaphorical presentation. He goes to great length in explaining many different interesting details about decisions surrounding everything from scripting decisions to directing the actors to cinematography elements. Based on this commentary alone, Marc Langenegger proved himself as a director whom I can respect beyond the standard “man in charge.” He does still point out the obvious quite frequently. However, they are always surrounded by conversation dealing with more intricate subtext.
A Passionate Process: Dissecting Deception – An interesting take on the Picture-in-Picture (PiP) capabilities of the Blu-ray format. Upon selecting this option from the menu of special features, the viewer is brought to a screen where they have the option to view all of the content as individual clips (for those with profile 1.0 hardware) or as the full PiP presentation (for those with profile 1.1 or 2.0 hardware). At least the first generation viewers are able to partake. The PiP window itself takes up about 1/3 of the screen. A little big for my tastes. As for the content? The most intelligent offerings come from Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor. There are also a few interesting technical decisions mentioned by director, writer, and cinematographer. Otherwise, what is offered is pretty obvious from the presentation of the film itself.
Exposing Deception: The Making Of The Film (18:18) – A pretty standard and basic ‘making of’ feature. It isn’t until the last few minutes when the Production Designer speaks about the use of costume and colour as metaphor that anything really interesting is discussed.Club Sexy (10:14) – This feature focuses on the erotic aspect of the film and the sexual motivations of the characters. Cast and crew, along with a couple of certified sex therapists, discuss how the sex club plays such a strong role in the growth of Ewan McGregor’s character. Also discussed, to a minute extent, is the legitimate existence of such sex clubs and why real people get involved with these real groups.
Added Deception: Deleted Scenes (5:41) – Two scenes left on the cutting room floor, and for good reason. More interesting though is the alternate ending that, if I surmise correctly, was the original intent of the filmmakers until put in front of test audiences as something was mentioned about this in one of the other extra features. It’s not much different, but different enough to create a feeling of the “not so happy” ending. The commentary provided by Marcel Langenegger is practically useless. He takes on the role of Captain Obvious and dictates what we are seeing with our own eyes except for the very last moments of the alternate ending where he manages to explain a major metaphorical representation of Ewan McGregor’s character journey.
Crave Factor – 6
2.40:1 Widescreen / AVC
Filmed in a combination of film stock and digital, the video transfer of this release is quite impressive. Daylight scenes were filmed on film stock and night scenes in digital. The two mesh nearly seamlessly together with only the slightest change noticeable in grain level. However, one must be very specifically seeking such contrivances in order to actually notice them. Anybody who is not scrutinizing the image with the utmost prejudice would never know that any difference in filming technique existed. Image detail is extravagant. Skin tones and fabric textures are very sharp. Heck, even skin textures on close-up shots are very impressive. Of particular beauty is the quality of the black levels. With the dark and night shots filmed entirely in a digital format it makes the depth of said scenes much more dynamic. Nowhere was there a single hint of artifacting. Overall, one of the best transfers that I have seen on the Blu-ray format.
Crave Factor – 9
DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio / Dolby Digital 5.1 (French & Spanish)
This type of film, without action sequences or excessive gunfire, don’t lend themselves to very dynamic sound mixes. Therefore, there is often very little reason to have much play across all of the speakers in one’s home entertainment system. There is one chapter (aptly entitled Ka-boom) which sounds quite good. The explosion lends itself beautifully to a full range and array of audio detail. The subwoofer is rich both with the bass subtext of the blast, but also with the deepened spectrum of the score. Other than that, the film’s musical composition is the only determining factor upon which one can assess this DTS HD MA presentation. And, it all sounds like there is a live orchestral accompaniment hiding all around the living room. The dialogue never has any hiccups through plenty of deep breathing and whispered lines. Not once did I strain to hear what anyone was saying.
The Dolby Digital tracks, although both in foreign languages, have ample quality to make the presentation enjoyable and understandable. They obviously lack some depth in the orchestral portion of the audio track when compared to the DTS HD MA track, but the dialogue still remains audible. Some minor subtleties are also lacking in environmental detail such as the likes of a slight echo in the large marble halls of a Spanish bank. Otherwise, both foreign language Dolby tracks do the job well enough for anyone without a Hi-Def capable receiver to enjoy.
Crave Factor – 8
The disc menu incorporates a full screen montage of clips from the film overlayed by one of the more dramatic soundtrack compositions. Layered atop this montage along the right hand sid is a scrolling set of numbers meant to represent the call list in the phone which the protaganist uses to partake in his sexual journey. There is also a translucent design along the bottom third of the screen that incorporates a couple of asterik type symbols. Within this is located the disc options, which all have certain random letters bolded. The highlighted option becomes fully bolded in order to distinguish it as the current selection. It is also accompanied by a dual asterisk signifier. Of particular note is the beautiful way in which these words actually visually transform between being highlighted and not. They don’t just appear to become so. There is beautifully smooth graphical transition that takes place before the viewers eyes.
The pop-up menu during feature playback is comprised of just the design along the bottom third of the screen. Personally, I could have done without the asterisk symbols and would have preferred just having the options appear.
Crave Factor – 8
Deception will not be everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to being entertained. Those who do enjoy the film will want to have the best presentation possible, if not only for the beautiful representation of some magnificent cinematography. The Blu-ray release by 20th Century Fox is definitely the place to find that. With an incredible visual canvas that sees only one scene with any noticeable flaws, there is no contesting the fact that this is the definitive version for quality. As for the audio, there definitely is an improvement over the standard DVD fair of a Dolby Digital track thanks to a DTS HD MA presentation. Whether that difference is good enough to be part of the price difference between formats is entirely up to the viewer. Personally, I find the orchestration of the score much more powerful, but not everyone lends themselves as emotionally vulnerable to the music of a scene as I do. And lastly, the only extra feature with any real promise is the director commentary. Even if you watch all other extra features first, don’t let the director’s clips within them fool you. He actually has quite a bit of insight to offer through his solo track.
In the end, this title raises a lot of questions regarding how you, our readers, will feel about it. As a result I have no choice but to recommend Deception as a “rent it before purchasing.”