Synopsis – A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs in order to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers.
My Take – With a string of steamy films like 9½ Weeks (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987), Indecent Proposal (1993), Lolita (1997), and Unfaithful (2002) under his belt, it can be safely said that English writer-producer-director Adrian Lyne in many ways ruled the erotic-thriller genre for a while.
Highly engaging, slick, suspenseful and ridiculous at the same time, his films mastered the sub-genre with irresistible tales of wayward spouses and reckless desires, well, that is until the once popular and lucrative genre quickly declined in appeal and commercial value in the 2000s.
Now, twenty years later director Lyne finally returned from retirement with a curious new entry, a loose adaptation of a 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name that has previously been turned into a 1981 French film and a two part German television film in 1983.
Adapted by screenwriters Zach Helm (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) and Sam Levinson (Euphoria), the film contains all the familiar ingredients to be a trashy, dark steamy thriller that peeks into the desires and demands of an outwardly unhappy married couple. Sharing curious beats with another Ben Affleck led marriage-gone-wrong thriller Gone Girl (2014).
But while it is appropriately cheesy and sleazy, it sadly doesn’t quite compare to the films that preceded it, mainly as it squanders the plot with too much subtlety and just not enough drive. Though director Lyne still possesses strong stylistic skills and the ability to evoke great performances, he’s unfortunately let down by a script that doesn’t provide the twisty swings that the narrative needs.
There are too many gaps in the story and how much one enjoys this depends on how much one misses the sub-genre. Personally, I was entertained enough and felt Affleck and Ana de Armas‘ generated enough heat to make the film worth a single watch, even if it seems destined to remembered more for the two’s short lived off screen romance that their onscreen.
The story follows Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas), a picture-perfect married couple that outwardly have everything, including his wealth and their adorable young daughter, Trixie (Grace Jenkins), but behind closed doors, things are not so normal. While Vic, who effectively retired young after hitting it big by developing a microchip for drones, spends most of his time being a good father, and indulging in his hobbies like raising snails, and riding his mountain bike.
On the other hand, Melinda occupies herself mainly flirting, flaunting, and fooling around with younger men. Something which their friends have embarrassingly noticed, and the gossip grown to include the idea that Vic may have even killed one of Mel’s previous friends.
But while Vic acts unperturbed by his wife’s infidelity, things begin to unravel when he finds himself accused of killing her latest obsession.
As one would expect, the second act is mostly focused on whether or not Vic is complicit in the deaths of Melinda’s former lovers, and soon the ambiguity is lost, giving us a clearer sense of what exactly is happening. Only, if the material was properly handle.
Typically in a thriller like this, either the audience learns the truth and watches the lead character deal with the consequences of the reality, or it’s kept hidden until the end as a reveal that the story builds up to, but the film takes a swing at doing both, and it jumbles up the middle of the picture. The result is an uneven, oddly paced film that feels like some connecting scenes mysteriously went missing in the editing room.
In comparison to director David Fincher‘s Gone Girl (2014), director Lyne keeps his film leaner, never really digging into this lead couple’s psychological makeup, instead playing it around like a thriller that is largely about male jealousy and what it might lead to.
The story does raise the intriguing possibility that Melinda and Vic might be engaging in some kinky extended role play, but whatever game these two are up to isn’t, terribly clear.
Even though part of the fun in the film is the way he manages to express his contempt for Melinda and her many lovers without losing his cool. The real workings of their relationship like how they fell in love in the first place and how things changed over time, never quite become clear.
And this is largely because we do not get Melinda’s point of view. Meanwhile, the director keeps piling on his signature touches and it wouldn’t be an Adrian Lyne film if the female lead didn’t sit around soaking in an antique bathtub.
But what’s refreshing about the film, especially in contrast to his latter films, is that it lacks the moralistic streak that has often marred director Lyne‘s work, where characters stray from happy marriages and wind up paying the price in a flurry of horrific violence. Instead it slyly inverts that setup, partly by making the couple’s marriage unhappy right from the start.
It also helps that Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas make for a good pair. Ben Affleck, always an underrated actor, delivers a surprising turn. As in Gone Girl, he excels at playing the golden boy turned bad. Ana de Armas, currently one of our most gorgeous film stars, manages to be sensuously frustrating, and does enough to show why she is getting so much traction.
In supporting roles, Tracy Letts appropriately plays the nosy neighbor, while little Grace Jenkins is entirely charming. In smaller roles, Lil Rel Howery, Dash Mihok, Finn Wittrock, Jacob Elordi, Rachel Blanchard, Jade Fernandez, and Kristen Connolly are effective. On the whole, ‘Deep Water’ is an uneven yet watchable erotic-thriller letdown by its meandering script.
Directed – Adrian Lyne
Rated – R
Run Time – 115 minutes