A film review by Craig J. Koban March 27, 2022

DEEP WATER jj
  

2022, R, 115 mins.

Ben Affleck as Vic Van Allen  /  Ana de Armas as Melinda Van Allen  /  Tracy Letts as Don Wilson  /  Grace Jenkins as Trixie  /  Dash Mihok as Jonas Fernandez  /  Rachel Blanchard as Kristin Peterson  /  Kristen Connolly as Kelly Wilson  /  Jacob Elordi as Charlie De Lisle  /  Lil Rel Howery as Grant  /  Brendan Miller as Joel Dash  /  Jade Fernandez as Jen Fernandez  /  Finn Wittrock as Tony Cameron

Directed by Adrian Lyne  /  Written by Sam Levinson and Zach Helm

As amazing as it seems, DEEP WATER represents director Adrian Lyne's first feature film in twenty years.  

During his heyday, the button pushing filmmaker tackled erotically charged thrillers, such as the zeitgeist defining FATAL ATTRACTION and INDECENT PROPOSAL to his most recent in 2002's UNFAITHFUL (arguably one of his best and most forgotten efforts).   

If one really thinks about it, perhaps there's a reason for Lyne's two decade absence from this genre: Can anyone name a handful of Hollywood banked, hard R-rated erotic thrillers with big name A-list actors during the last several years?  Didn't think so.  In many respects, "adult" movies like this are no longer a dime a dozen, which makes this Hulu produced (streaming on Amazon Prime in Canada) film an almost small scale event.  And there's no denying that Lyne's latest contains an intriguing set-up and some effectively dialed in performances by stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas (who were dating at the time of production), but the screenplay lets viewers (and the actors) down by laying its cards on the table too quickly and aggressively, which subverts most of the intended suspense.  That, and DEEP WATER is - when all is said and done - kind of disappointingly tame on a level of hearted eroticism.   

Based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith (who also, incidentally, wrote STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY), DEEP WATER sets up its battle of sexual gamesmanship rather well in the early stages.  We meet Affleck's Vic, who has been married to the love of his life in de Armas' Melinda for years, but something just seems off about their relationship as of late.  Despite being relatively young looking, Vic has been retired for awhile and spends most of his time focusing on his hobbies, one of them involving collecting snails and the other keeping an ultra close watch on his sexually promiscuous wife.  Melinda is not just flirty: She goes out of her way to engage in full-on sexual relationships with other men...and all while knowing full well that her husband witnesses such events transpiring.  During one party early in the film she seems crazily and publicly smitten with a young hunk named Joel (Brendan Miller).  When Vic crosses paths with Joel he matter-of-factly informs him that (a) Melinda's last ex-lover went mysteriously missing and (b) he killed him.  

Wait...what?!

Now, Joel brushes off Vic's strange boast, but he utters it without much in the way of sarcasm that it honestly gets the young adulterer thinking.  Was Vic making some sort of sick joke in poor taste or is he really a vile murderer of Melinda's lovers?  Vic's friends in Mary (Devyn A. Tyler) and Grant (Lil Rel Howery) seem more worried about Vic's mental state when it's abundantly clear to everyone in a room with them that Melinda is anything but devoted to just one man in her life.  Other people in the couple's circle of friends, like aspiring writer Don (the great Tracy Letts), perhaps have more suspicions than anyone else that Vic maybe - just maybe - might be a killer at heart, but has no tangible way of proving it.  As the days progress, Melinda becomes even more dejected by just being in the presence of Vic's everlasting coldness, whereas Vic seems more interested in tending to his weird snail farm in his basement than having sex with his wife.  As their already strained relationship gets worse, Melinda hooks up yet again with another man, this time a piano player (Jacob Elordi), which Vic decides to act upon in a very unhealthy manner. 

 

 

Again, the core hook of DEEP WATER is an endlessly fascinating one.  We've seen movies about marital infidelity before and jaded victims of such indiscretions seeking vengeance on their once loyal partners, but Lyne's film - early on, at least - tries to frame it from a different perspective.  Melinda isn't cheating in private; she's brazenly mocking her husband in public and with all of their mutual friends in attendance.  He seems chillingly calm about it all.  The script by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson teases audiences as much as Melinda does her hubby: Why is she such an out-there adulterer?  Why is Vic seemingly okay with it?  More importantly, is Vic actually a blood lusting murderer...or is he just fantasizing about killing Melinda's sexual conquests?  There's no doubt that Melinda is a dirty cheater, but the big question that DEEP WATER establishes is whether or not Vic is a deranged madman. 

On a level of male/female power dynamics, DEEP WATER has its intriguing moments, to be sure.  There's a process of discovery at play throughout the first half of the story in terms of deciphering just what in the hell is going on in this tortured marriage and why Vic just seems content with casually observing his wife's sexual hungers that he somehow can't fulfill anymore.  Both husband and wife are trying to process complex feelings about a lack of energy in their union, which leads to many psychological mind games, mostly initiated Melinda.  Vic appears to be suppressing his sexual urges with Melinda, whereas she seems insistent on getting involved with any handsome man that crosses her path.   Affleck and de Armas are really solid in this film, with the former specifically - on an undeniable role after performances in films like THE WAY BACK, THE TENDER BAR, THE LAST DUEL and now this - having a field day portraying Vic's passive aggressiveness with his wife's insulting behavior.  Affleck is also superb at not directly tipping off whether or not this man's is crazy (he wisely and dexterously never overplays the role).  His co-star, on the other hand, is a real firecracker in the film playing this woman that seems to joyously get off in making her husband squirm with subjugated jealousy.  At one point she coldly taunts him, "If you were married to anyone else, you'd be so f---ing bored that you'd kill yourself."  What a vengeful vixen. 

There's a big problem, though, that hurts DEEP WATER's overall effectiveness: It never manages to pay off its initially intoxicating premise in a satisfying manner, not to mention that as the story progresses it becomes almost less thoughtful and psychologically rich.  This tale of bizarre marital warfare and obsession never really generates as much nail biting tension as its should have (or at least what was on display in the opening sections).  I would aptly say that most of Lyne's previous erotic thrillers have an audacious confidence, but DEEP WATER seems uncharacteristically reticent with really pushing the boundaries of the material (and R-rating) to deliver the memorable goods.  This could be attributed to the fact that there are many subplots and/or characters that feel under developed (or possibly have had their scenes thrown to the floor in the editing room), like, for instance, Letts' character, who's rarely developed fully to the point where we understand why he becomes so enraptured with proving Vic to be a mass murderer.  Lyne also fumbles the ball in other key moments, like a big climatic chase scene between two key players that (no spoilers) is more unintentionally funny than nail bitingly intense.  And the film's ending (and arrival at it) is pretty clunky and lacking in dramatic conviction.  DEEP WATER feels like rough first edit material that's in need of more finesse.   

Here's the biggest disappointment: DEEP WATER is just not very...sexy.  Affleck and de Armas are great together (granted, if the film was perhaps released when they were dating then maybe its impact with a theatrical release would have been larger, but when Disney bought Fox - and then the pandemic hit - this film was unceremoniously dumped to streaming well after the actors were a hot item).  But their performance good will doesn't make up for a genuine lack of passionate heat in the film.  I revisited many of Lyne's aforementioned erotic thrillers and was reminded of how they were genuinely erotic.  DEEP WATER lacks a pulse most of the time, mostly because it's just too timid minded for its own good.  That's a shame, because the prospect of what could have been rings all throughout Lyne's film, and for the twenty year wait it should have been hotter dish served to audiences.  Considering the past established standards of the genre and Lyne's resume, DEEP WATER is deeply forgettable and not nearly as sexually charged as it thinks it is.  UNFAITHFUL could melt an ice cube from across the room, but by comparison DEEP WATER's flame is all fizzled out before it even enters one.

  H O M E