Three Thrillers from Fox
Deception (April 28/08)
Egregiously predictable elements aside, Deception generally comes off as an agreeable little thriller that benefits substantially from the uniformly stellar performances and director Marcel Langenegger's refreshingly stark sense of style. Ewan McGregor stars as Jonathan McQuarry, a straight-laced accountant whose friendship with charismatic executive Wyatt Bose (Hugh Jackman) leads him to an illicit sex club called simply The List. It's there that Jonathan - after sleeping his way through half of New York City - finds himself falling for an enigmatic figure (Michelle Williams), though there does reach a point at which Wyatt's less-than-savory motives become exceedingly clear. Screenwriter Mark Bomback's decision to portray Jackman's character in a relatively sinister light right off the bat - ie why does nobody at his office seem to know him? - proves to be an almost insurmountable obstacle for the film to overcome, as even the most dim-witted viewer will immediately realize that Wyatt is steering Jonathan towards a presumably malicious destination. The suspense of wondering just why Wyatt is doing this does help to offset this problem, admittedly, although there's little doubt that the whole sex-club subplot - by the time everything's said and done - turns out to be entirely needless and seems to have been included only to infuse the proceedings with a distinctly salacious vibe. The extent to which the viewer is subsequently drawn into the familiar story is surprising, to be sure, yet the inclusion of a head-scratchingly superfluous third act will undoubtedly test the patience of even the most forgiving viewer. Still, with its deliberate pace and emphasis on adult characters, Deception is the kind old-school thriller that's become all-too-rare within contemporary multiplexes - even if it does occasionally resemble an absurdly convoluted straight-to-video effort.
Sleeping with the Enemy
Though Julia Roberts delivers as charismatic a performance as one might've expected, Sleeping with the Enemy is ultimately undone by a relentless emphasis on obvious and downright laughable elements that'll surely leave even the most ingenuous viewer sporadically rolling their eyes. Roberts stars as Laura Burney, a battered wife who finally decides to leave her almost ridiculously abusive husband (Patrick Bergin's Martin) by faking her own death. Laura quickly (and quietly) relocates to small-town Iowa, where she changes her name and begins seeing a sensitive drama teacher (Kevin Anderson's Ben) - though, of course, it's not long before Martin grows wise to his former wife's activities. There's little doubt that Sleeping with the Enemy's most egregious failing is in the development of Bergin's Martin Burney, as the lack of subtlety with which screenwriter Ronald Bass (working from Nancy Price's novel) has infused the figure proves to be far too insurmountable an obstacle for the film to overcome (ie he is, to paraphrase Mike Myers' So I Married an Axe Murderer character, so evil that you would say he is eeeevil). Joseph Ruben's simplistic directorial choices - ie a trying-on-hats montage set to Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" - only heighten the movie's various problems, although it's admittedly impossible to deny the effectiveness of the movie's suspenseful (albeit entirely predictable) climax. In the end, Sleeping with the Enemy's exceedingly easy-to-follow storyline and cut-and-dried characters ensure that the film remains mindlessly entertaining throughout its brisk running time - yet it goes without saying that the rampantly silly atmosphere becomes awfully tough to take and the movie is finally unlikely to appeal to those above a certain age (ie I can remember thoroughly enjoying this as a teenager).
The Vanishing (April 28/08)
Before it reaches its disappointingly conventional finale, The Vanishing comes off as a thoroughly involving thriller that boasts a number of genuinely tense sequences and superb performances from leads Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. The deceptively simple story follows Sutherland's Jeff Harriman as he becomes a man obsessed following the disappearance of his girlfriend (Sandra Bullock's Diane), with his quest to discover just what happened to her inevitably bringing him face-to-face with Bridges' sinister Barney Cousins. Director George Sluizer - working from Todd Graff's screenplay - has infused The Vanishing with a slow-moving sensibility that's relatively anomalous with films of this ilk, and it's surprising to note that the end result is an effort that generally succeeds as both a thriller and a drama. Jeff's transformation from affable everyman to haunted victim is surely heightened by Sutherland's effectively subtle performance, though there's little doubt that he's often upstaged by Bridges' expectedly engaging work as the quirky psycho. That being said, the inclusion of several almost egregiously action-heavy sequences towards the end ultimately does leave the proceedings with a bitter aftertaste - as such moments generally feel as though they'd be more at home within an entirely different movie (that the original Dutch film, also directed by Sluizer, concludes on a distinctly psychological and appropriately low-key note only adds insult to injury). And while it's impossible not to derive some enjoyment out of watching Bridges' smug character receive his comeuppance, there's just no denying the incongruous nature of most of the third act's developments.