As someone who loves a challenging, mean movie and has a tendency to be hypnotized by a proper venomous femme fatale, Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water is a film that checks a lot of my boxes in its first half. Appropriate to its title, it doesn’t bother with the shallow end, and quickly throws the audience into the world of Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas) – what can be described as an untraditional married couple.
Within 10 minutes of the studio logos she is shown at a party not only kissing another man (Brendan Miller), but doing it in a location where she seems to know he will be watching. A few minutes later, Vic has what could be politely described as a passive aggressive conversation with this “boyfriend” where he straight-faced jokes that he killed the last man that his wife was seeing.
Hook successfully baited.
From there, Deep Water proceeds with a number of terrific assets –from its creeping, sinister tone, to de Armas’ impressive and bold performance – and you just wait for the real fireworks to start. And you keep waiting. And you keep waiting. Ultimately you discover that it’s really not until there are about 10 minutes left in the total runtime that the film finds a pulse above resting heart rate, though by then you may be disengaged and not invest in the presented stakes.
Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, and adapted by screenwriters Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, Deep Water has the ingredients to be a sharp, dark neo-noir, particularly when plot developments see some lovers turn up dead, but squanders it with too much subtlety and not enough drive.
Deep Water has a terrific 180 degree-turn performance from Ana de Armas after Knives Out and No Time To Die.
Injecting the most life into Deep Water is the performance by Ana de Armas – but perhaps not for the reasons you’d imagine. She is as seductive as the role requires, but what makes her stand out most is just how spectacularly hateful Melinda is. In Freudian terms, this is a character wholly driven by the pleasure principal and fulfilling desires. She is completely disengaged as a mother, and is instead laser focused on social activities like getting drunk and finding attractive young men with whom she can cuckold her husband.
Melinda is cold as ice and wholly unlikable – and thus is a fascinating performance to see from Ana de Armas. She’s played the villain before (if you haven’t seen Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, allow this to be your recommendation), but in the last five years audiences have fallen for her in large part because of her sweetheart characters.
Her turn as the digital Joi in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is wonderful and effervescent, but, of course, it’s her turn as dedicated good person Marta Cabrera in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out that has found her a special place in the hearts of movie-goers. Her small role in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time To Die last year saw her working the same delightful magic… but none of that is in Deep Water.
It’s a bold choice by Ana de Armas at this point in her career, and while I suspect response may be divisive, I love what she does with the part.
The movie gets muddled when it’s unclear how it wants you to think about Ben Affleck’s Vic.
Ben Affleck also delivers a surprising turn in Deep Water as the snail-loving hobbyist Vic, with the film making some interesting choices to not emasculate the character in the same way as his counterpart in the novel. Where the movie finds trouble, however, is figuring exactly how it wants to treat him as a protagonist in a story, and what’s in the movie feels like a messy attempt at the filmmakers trying to have their cake and eat it too.
As you may have surmised, the rising action in the second act emerges from the question of whether or not Vic is complicit in the deaths of Melinda’s former lovers, and it’s key material that the movie doesn’t seem to know how to 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 Deep Water takes a swing at doing both, and it jumbles up the middle of the picture.
Deep Water has an original ending that may surprise fans of the book, but it still isn’t totally satisfying.
For the benefit of your viewing experience, I’m doing my best to dance nimbly around spoilers, if not especially because this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 65-year-old book features an original ending that deviates notably from the source material. It’s the most exciting part of this otherwise relatively calm thriller, imbuing the conclusion with some intriguing ambiguity, but it just comes too late to counterbalance the tepidity of the 105 minutes that precede it.
The film comes from the arguable master of the erotic thriller/drama genre, as Adrian Lyne’s filmography boasts titles including 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, the remake of Lolita, and Unfaithful. Deep Water is his first movie in 20 years, and while it shows that he still has strong stylistic skills and the ability to evoke great performances, he’s let down by a script that doesn’t provide the broad tonal swings that the narrative needs.
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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