Poor Tim Bayh. As written by director and co-screenwriter Don Okolo (with a more than ample contribution from fellow scripter Ed DeZevallos) and portrayed by actor par excellence Anthony Ray Parker, Tim is the perfect everyman. He has a loving family, a nice home in suburbia and is in position to become the first African American to win the governorship of Texas. Of course, with those credentials you just know bad times are ahead for the erstwhile good guy.
Lone Star Deception begins innocuously enough as we follow the inevitable rise of Stuart Sagle as he races toward a bid for Texas governor. Unfortunately, the happily married father has a dark secret that all but threatens his political ambitions in the form of a blackmailing prostitute. This is not at all tenable to Sagle’s wealthy and influential uncle, Bill Sagle, deftly and slyly played by Eric Roberts in a small yet pivotal part. Realizing that his nephew’s indiscretions are a liability, the Machiavellian Roberts – straight out of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet – orchestrates one of his trusted workers, Tim Bayh, into the role of candidate for the governorship after events take a decidedly bad turn for Stuart. The only issue? Now that Stuart is off the board, the prostitute and a shady group of cohorts refuse to go away, turning their seamy attention to Tim Bayh who now finds himself inheriting his predecessor’s albatross. The question is, how far will Tim go not only to win the governorship, but also to protect his own family who are now targets of this shakedown scheme?
Lone Star Deception is classic film noir reimagined and tweaked for 2020 and, like some of the best examples of noir – Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, The Third Man, Angel Heart – it involves a protagonist who finds himself way out of his element, shady characters and double crosses. Of course, it helps if the audience actually likes and is rooting for the hapless hero. After all, who cares about The Maltese Falcon without Humphrey Bogart’s cynical yet empathetic Sam Spade? In the case of Lone Star Deception, audiences can count themselves fortunate to have as their point of relation the wonderful Anthony Ray Parker who carries with him a sort of quiet dignity that bursts through the celluloid and presents us with one of the better drawn protagonists in recent film history. Parker’s Tim Bayh is a quiet force of nature with still waters running deeply, indeed. This intensity all plays out on Parker’s face and in his eyes and carries audiences over the very few rough patches in director’s Don Okolo and Robert Peters Valentine to classic film noir. Although some of the publicity cites the film as a “political thriller”, make no mistake that the directing duo are genuinely plying their trade in the wonderfully atmospheric world of Billy Wilder, Orson Welles and Nicholas Ray where shadows abound and all motives are suspect.
The political angle of Lone Star Deception is, of course, quite timely and never is this more on display than early on in the film when an enclave of shadowy money men assemble to discuss poor Stuart Sagle and his potential replacement on the governor’s ballot, Tim Bayh. In a tour de force performance, Eric Roberts wines and dines these arbiters of Old Money with a charm that is beguiling. As Bill Sagle, Roberts easily turns in a performance that might have seemed ham-fisted in a lesser actor’s hands. The scene is right out of Oliver Stone’s Nixon and it prepares audience and Tim Bayh alike for the dark path that lies immediately ahead, Super Pac’s and all.
But the real reason to watch Lone Star Deception at the end of the day ultimately comes down to Anthony Ray Parker. Here is an actor that is so good that, if there is a God of Cinema, we should all be hearing and seeing a lot more from this versatile actor in the very near future. My recommendation? Watch Lone Star Deception for its clever twists and turns, but stay firmly planted in your seat for Mr. Parker’s scene stealing subtlety. The film was produced and casted by Nkem DenChukwu.