Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Rooker, Rene Zellweger, Ellen Burstyn, Rosanna Arquette
Directors: Jonas & Joshua Pate
Audio: English Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: MGM
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: April 16, 2002

“Isn't it past your bedtime? You can get into a lot of trouble being out this late.”

“That's the idea.”

Film ***1/2

At the heart of Deceiver is a maze of a psychological mind game that pulls you in as many directions as possible. Needless to say, you will most likely be caught off guard by the numerous twists. You either believe the plot twists or you don't, such is the case with a lot of thrillers these days, but with Deceiver, I allowed myself to be pulled in any direction, since I was practically engulfed in the suspense, as well as the atmosphere. The sharp directing and style of this noir thriller looks as if it was inspired by a David Lynch movie, though it thankfully doesn't rip any of his films off. Deceiver is a pure cinematic enigma, and a well put-together one at that.

The film takes place mostly in a police interrogation room, in that of Charleston, SC (a much inspired setting) where a murder suspect is being questioned and tested by two detectives. Headlining the film's stellar cast is Tim Roth, one of the great actors of his generation, as James Waylard, a very rich, but unemployed Princeton graduate who is the prime suspect in the gruesome murder of a local prostitute. The cops questioning him are Braxton (Chris Penn) and Kennesaw (Michael Rooker). They start out by giving Waylard a typical polygraph test, which he feels he responds to quite comfortably, though the cops demand a more than one testing. Over the course of three tension-filled days, Wayland is forced to recall the random encounters he had with the murder victim; a prostitute named Elizabeth (Rene Zellweger).

We do get frequent flashbacks of Wayland talking with Elizabeth, which were on more than one occasion…but that's not all we get. What starts out as a recollection of events soon turns into a sick diabolical series of mind games instigated by Wayland, acquiring an IQ of 151, who taps into the inner demons of Braxton and Kennesaw. Braxton, we learn, has a gambling vice and is deep in debt to a local bookie (Ellen Burstyn), and the suspect even dares to question Kennesaw about his violent temper thrown at his suffering wife (Rosanna Arquette), and his suspected instances of infidelity. Wayland has a lot going for him in terms of excusing himself of the entire investigation. In addition to being very smart, he is quite rich and loaded, being the son of a wealthy textile mogul. He also happens to acquire a bit of a good alibi, as it is revealed that he suffers from a case of epilepsy, which under extreme circumstances, can cause him to become catatonic, as well as display extremely violent reactions.

The primary pleasure factor in Deceiver is the knockout performance by Tim Roth. It is simply mesmerizing to see Roth, a British actor, capture an impeccable and precise accent for a character that he makes all his own. He did it before in Reservoir Dogs, the first film I saw him in, and at the time I didn't know he was from England. Roth is simply one of the great chameleon actors the cinema will ever have the pleasure of, and his work in Deceiver is a prime illustration of how good he really is. Penn and Rooker, mostly seen in supporting roles, deliver intense performances as the cops who are put on the spot, and Zellweger, in her brief appearances, turns what could've come off as a stock caricature into a very memorable one.

The film is the project of twin brothers Jonas and Joshua Pate, who have created a virtuoso and deeply atmospheric psychological thriller that ticks like a time bomb, leading up to a explosive finale. This film came and went in its initial release. I first discovered it on VHS, and am now happy to enjoy it all over again in the digital format. If you're a fan of suspense, I recommend this highly and will as far as to tell you that you will not be disappointed.

Video ***

MGM has delivered their usual dosage of goods into a mostly decent video presentation. This is film that is totally in love with its style and camerawork, and the anamorphic presentation captures this aspect very nicely. The presentation suffers only from a bit of image cropping during the opening credits, and a couple occasions of softness, which is quite brief, and doesn't cause any distraction from the overall enjoyment. The standard version is included, but this is one flick you should only watch in the widescreen format. It was sorely messed up on VHS.

Audio ***1/2

I was completely caught by surprised by the quality of the lone 2.0 audio mix offered on this release. Since a 2.0 track is limited in areas that a superb 5.1 is not, the track on Deceiver shines in its capabilities, picking up side channel sound very clearly, delivering dialogue as crisp as can be, and really heightening the jolt in moments of tension and suspense. MGM has really delivered a pleasant surprise in this presentation.

Features *1/2

Only a trailer…but a good one. It does a superb job at not spoiling anything, and it makes you want to check out the movie indeed, so I give an extra point for that.


I simply can't stop praising this film now that it has finally made it to DVD. Deceiver is a masterful psychological thriller that is not to be missed. Fans of Tim Roth, and stylish thrillers should look no further.