Deceiver is a plot twist in search of a movie. This overly constructed film succeeds in having many surprises, and, being true to its title, being deceptive. But there is little in the film that is worthy of deceit.
Braxton (Chris Penn) and Kennesaw (Michael Rooker) are two cops investigating the brutal murder of a prostitute (Renee Zellweger). Their lone suspect is Wayland (Tim Roth), a textile heir whose phone number was found in the hooker’s pocket.
However, a routine lie detector test turns against the investigators, as the crafty Wayland somehow turns the tables. Braxton and Kennesaw are forced to confront their own troubled lives. Braxton is a gambling addict in deep to Mook (Ellen Burstyn), a local bookie. Kennesaw is bitter about his marriage to a socialite (Rosanna Arquette), believing his wife to be unfaithful.
The plot is twisty and complex, with lots of lengthy flashbacks, and plenty of surprises. However, there are times when it is needlessly complex, and at least one instance the storytelling turns so muddled that the answers to important plot points actually get lost. Take a look at L.A. Confidential, or the film’s more likely inspiration, The Usual Suspects for how a complex plot can properly be handled.
The dialogue in Deceiver is as overcrafted as the plot. For example, the film tells a few substories (such as the tale of a woeful absinthe bender, or an alternative telling of how Van Gogh lost his ear), but they are so flat and so plastic that they come off as prefabricated and unbelievable. There’s never the sense that these are real characters engaging in conversation. They appear to be nothing more than words on a screenplay.
The characters, themselves, are rather pathetic and despicable. Not one of them is an ounce sympathetic, and as a result, the labyrinthine plot is all for naught. What does it matter who is guilty of what and why?
Writer-directors Josh and Jonas Pate seem to desire to emulate the Coen brothers’ masterwork Blood Simple, or the Wachowski brothers’ less worthy Bound. But, while they have got the plot twists down cold, they need to work on characterization and dialogue.