Director: Marcel Langenegger
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Charlotte Rampling
UK Release date: 25 April 2008
Certificate: 15 (110 mins)
"One for "Deception"", I asked the girl at the Desk. "Hmm," she paused and looked at her computer screen. "That's in the basement." And how right she was.
Now I know that St Ignatius required of his men that they place the best possible construction on every person or event that they encountered. In everything human there is something divine. Their task was to find it and call it by its proper name. Ignatius did not imagine that was easy. And I'm pretty sure that films like this are exactly what he had in mind.
So, first the formula: it's an erotic thriller. Rule one of the erotic thriller is to get the erotic in early, preferably dressed up as the sexual initiation of a nerdish innocent. And so, suitably formulaic. Ewan McGregor is the goodie – an intellectually & sexually repressed auditor, as lonely and under-loved as a financial traffic warden, jobbing routinely from week to week, crunching the annual numbers of large New York banks, feared and hated in equal measure by the accountants whose misdeeds it is his solemn responsibility meticulously to overlook. It's a life. It pays the bills of a seedy apartment, but it's not what you'd call 'living'.
Hugh Jackman is the baddie, playing a modern day Mephistopheles seducing McGregor’s hubristic fiscal Faust. The reality is somewhere between Dick Dastardly & Dirty Den. He even steals Mutley's evil laugh. Jackman’s strategy is simple: he first introduces McGregor to cannabis, the gateway drug to the great evils that entrap the unwary innocent - tennis, armani suits, strip clubs and, (at long last) sex. For this last, Jackman initiates him to "The List" - a private club of men and women who meet only to satisfy each other's purely biological needs. As Charlotte Rampling deliciously describes it, "intimacy without intricacy". The rules are few and simple: No rough stuff; no business talk and no names. Being an innocent nerd, it all rather goes rather to his head. And being a nice boy, after a few frenzied anonymous couplings in various of New York's nicest hotels, even he knows there's more to life than this. Conveniently, Michelle Williams arrives to take Ewan further and deeper into his first ever meaningful relationship with something that isn’t a number.
And it is, of course, all an illusion. McGregor may be deceived, but the viewer is not even surprised when suddenly we move from erotic to thriller. The goodie and the baddie struggle it out with the blonde girl as the prize. Sometimes the baddie gets the upper hand (cackle, cackle), sometimes the goodie fights back (rasher, frasher!) at times one yearns for Jackman to break free of stereotype and say "You are becoming tedious, Mr Bond." Plot holes open up bigger than the jacuzzi-sized ones on the Caledonian road. But Nothing, Nothing, Nothing in all of this prepares the viewer for the sheer mind- numbing laziness of the happy ending tacked on when somebody obviously watched the rushes and realized that it wasn't going to work as tragedy. My only reason for not giving it away is that if, after reading this, you go and see it, then you deserve the full experience.
So now for the hard part - what good do we take from this? Well, Ignatius would probably want to begin with the feelings. And, having put aside one's natural rage at mis-spending £8.50, there is a strange sense of contentment. Bizarrely, it probably works for exactly the opposite reason that escapist fantasy is supposed to work. This is a world that does not exist - the worst of all possible worlds; one that the Creator did not choose. Human beings, even at their worst, are better than this. Thanks be to God.
Paul O’Reilly SJ