The Deceivers Review
Captain William Savage (Pierce Brosnan), the British commander of a district of India in 1825, witnesses the killing of a group of travellers in a grove and discovers the existence of a group of ruthless killers known as ‘thuggees’, the Hindu word for ‘deceivers’, from which the English word ‘thug’ comes. More than just a band of common criminals, Savage discovers that the thuggees are a secret cult who worship the six-armed goddess Kali, Goddess of Destruction. Dismissed from his post for such outrageous claims and behaviour outside his authority, Savage goes undercover, colouring himself up and infiltrating the secret and deadly organisation. But how far is he prepared to go to get the evidence he requires and protect his identity.
Quite atypical for a Merchant Ivory film and notable for the absence of usual director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Jhabvala, The Deceivers is a ‘Boys Own’ style ripping-yarn adventure of secret societies, mystic rituals, exotic customs, brutal punishments and a hero of fortitude and principle who will risk horrible death for the sake of truth and justice. There’s even a bit of romance in there – but nothing too girly – as our disgraced hero leaves his wife behind within the grasp of his old rival, while he seeks out the truth. It’s easy to be cynical of such material, but here it’s quite entertaining and rattles along in the best traditions of adventure storytelling, even as far as it being based on a true story.
Even though his Indian make-up wouldn’t fool anyone, never mind a deadly Indian cult, Pierce Brosnan in pre-James Bond days is the ideal man for this kind of role, delivering earnest stares and showing a stiff upper-lip under terrible peril, he is also a cool, authoritative and menacing presence. Director Nicholas Meyer (The Seven Percent Solution, Star Trek) handles the material well, with enough thrills, spills and dangers to keep you gripped throughout. The whole look of the film and its exotic locations are as glittering and colourful as the caskets of jewels stolen by the thugs.
The Deceivers is available to buy separately, but is also available as part of the compete Merchant Ivory Collection or the Merchant Ivory in India sub-boxset which includes Bombay Talkie, The Courtesans Of Bombay, Heat and Dust, In Custody and Shakespeare Wallah.
The print is fairly grainy, which causes frequent blocking artefacts and flickering to be visible. Colours are over-saturated, but the image is sharp and clear with few marks or scratches and there’s a decent level of detail in all but the murkier night-time scenes. Exterior shots however often look very bright and clear.
There are lots of effective stereo directional effects giving the impression of a wider sound mix, but it is only Dolby Digital 2.0. It functions well in that respect, but is a bit dull in tone and an audible level of background hiss can be heard in quieter passages.
There are no hard of hearing subtitles on either the feature or the extra features.
Like other titles in the Merchant Ivory Collection, most of the titles are text-based and brief, particularly on this DVD which has no interview material. About the Film touches briefly on the true story behind the film and its troubled production, but focuses on the non-regular crew in this Merchant Ivory film. About Merchant Ivory provides a brief history of the company, the variety of their material, the strength of their casts and awards won. Trailers are included for The Deceivers which is not unexpectedly thrilling as well as other Merchant Ivory titles - Howard’s End, Heat and Dust and Quartet. Cast & Crew provides a text only cast listing, while Biographies gives brief details on Pierce Brosnan, Saeed Jaffrey, Shashi Kapoor, Keith Michell, Helena Michell and David Robb.
The Deceivers is as entertaining and colourful an adventure as Indiana Jones, all the better because it is played with straight-faced earnestness without any knowing winks about the campness and lavish exoticism of its subject. The DVD is only average in terms of quality of the feature and the extra materials, but is certainly adequate and presents an interesting change of pace and character from the other titles in the Merchant Ivory in India collection.