Friday, April 20, 2012
Mr. Johnson goes to India, or Take it up with the great Deceiver, who looks you in the eye...
Ah, the 80s. A big year for "The" movies. 1987 brought us The Believers. And was I the only one who thought of 1991's Deceived? Goldie Hawn's Extremities? Then of course, this came up as I was typing into the IMDb. Alas, we're stuck with 1988's The Deceivers, a Merchant Ivory production without the Ivory. And even though most movie critics worth their weight in salt probably shouldn't like this movie, I thought it had some moments where it tries to reach for greatness. Of course, ultimately, the only movie about the Thuggee cult worth watching is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, even though it's slipped through the cracks of the internet as of late.
The plot: Pierce Brosnan plays a dude who's about to marry well in nineteenth century India, occupied by the ... the British East India Company? One of those conglomerates back then. The opening episode is how Brosnan deals with a woman about to commit the act of "suttee," or ritual suicide in response to her husband's death. Brosnan comes up with a plan to stop the woman. As it happens, Brosnan himself kinda looks like the woman's husband. Will this plan involve some sort of... deception?
I hate to spoil the movie's surprises, and I guess I was enjoying myself because I didn't see them coming. I just like to think that I'm not that cynical about human nature yet, job hunting aside. Actually, now that I think of it, there's an initial opening sequence, and there's Brosnan's introductory episode. Both tie in to the rest of the plot. Sorta unusual... or maybe not. Seemed unusual at the time.
Since James Ivory's not in the director's chair on this one, you'd expect the quality to dip a little bit, or a lot, depending on your point of view. I hate to give away the plot further, but the film's credibility hangs on the notion that Brosnan can blend in well enough to infiltrate the Thuggee brotherhood, armed only with his English accent and some face paint. As it turns out, he's quite successful at it, even though he seems to adopt an Indian accent in only one crucial scene. But what price deception? How many indignities must he suffer? After getting strung out on some blood and falling into the "Black Sleep"... oops, I mean tasting the "consecrated sugar," he starts to change, man! He used to be so uptight. Now he gets cool, starts clapping his hands, and actually seems to ENJOY the Thuggee lifestyle! In one bid for artistic greatness, Brosnan starts to find parallels between his native Catholicism, and the Thuggee rituals. In the film's metaphorical 'climax,' so to speak, Brosnan is making love to a strange woman, but he begins to see his wife, then the wife of the man he's imitating. I haven't seen anything like it since Point Blank! ...okay, YouTube doesn't seem to have it, but they do have that epic slap fight between Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin. Icons fighting icons! Not enough of that these days.
One last thought. I didn't recognize much of the cast or crew, except for the production designer, Tony Adams. Love that guy. Classy-looking film, that's for sure.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan