leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
The kind of modest film too often lost in the crowd of low-budget genre releases, this moody psychological thriller was first shown on Cinemax, then went to video as BEYOND DECEPTION before getting a limited theatrical release. On the surface, insurance salesman John Nolan (Jeff Goldblum) has an enviable life: a well-paid job, a smart, attractive girlfriend named Carol (Nancy Travis) and the trappings of middle-class success. Then fate steps in and shakes him till his eyeballs rattle. One minute, John's buying a bottle of wine, the next he's face down on the floor and some hopped-up punk with a gun is screaming for money. John comes through the robbery unscathed, but the counter clerk (Kim Coates) is shot. John accompanies him to the hospital, and learns the man's name Auggie Rose before he dies. John feels responsible: Auggie startled the gunman by emerging from the back of the store with a bottle of wine for John. John feels worse when he learns that Auggie was fresh out of prison and had only worked in the store for two days. He starts poking around the edges of the dead man's life, telling himself he just wants to find a relative or friend who can make proper burial arrangements. But there's more to it than that: John is restless, vaguely discontented but unable to articulate his dissatisfaction. The more he learns about Auggie, the more he sees a man cruelly cut down just as he was making a fresh start. John rescues Auggie's parrot from a pawn shop, befriends his neighbor (Joe Santos) and finds a bundle of letters from Auggie's prison pen pal Lucy, including a postcard saying she's on her way to meet him. John tells himself he's going to the bus station to deliver the sad news in person, but when Lucy (Anne Heche) calls him Auggie, he doesn't correct her. John seems poised to step into Auggie's life, until some scary guy named Roy Mason (Timothy Olyphant) appears, wanting "Auggie" to help him pull a robbery. When John demurs, Roy starts doing some investigating of his own, and John's deception begins to unravel. Granted, John's growing conviction that he's as much a prisoner as Auggie was, trapped in a cage of material comforts, smacks of bourgeois self pity. And yes, the "stop and smell the roses" message is familiar. But screenwriter Matthew Tabak's directing debut is carefully plotted, well acted and surprisingly free of cheap thrills.