|Director: Adrian Lyne
|Screenplay: Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith)
|Stars: Ben Affleck (Vic Van Allen), Ana de Armas (Melinda Van Allen), Tracy Letts (Don Wilson), Grace Jenkins (Trixie), Dash Mihok (Jonas Fernandez), Rachel Blanchard (Kristin Peterson), Kristen Connolly (Kelly Wilson), Jacob Elordi (Charlie De Lisle), Lil Rel Howery (Grant), Brendan C. Miller (Joel Dash), Jade Fernandez (Jen Fernandez), Finn Wittrock (Tony Cameron), Michael Braun (Jeff Peterson)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 2022
In Deep Water, his first film in nearly two decades, director Adrian Lyne picks up right where he left off, digging into the sordid and dangerous realm of marital infidelity that fueled his triptych of most infamous and talked about films: Unfaithful (2002), Indecent Proposal (1993), and Fatal Attraction (1987). While all of those films were, to one degree or another, melodramatic thrillers about the price of straying from the stable comforts of home and family for sexual indulgence, Deep Water ups the ante by beginning the film in infidelity, rather than working its way to it. Infidelity is not the deviation here, but rather the norm for Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas), although all of the cheating is being done quite openly and proudly by the latter, much to the dismay of the former, who nevertheless tolerates it. Why, exactly, Vic consents to Melinda’s predilection for engaging amorously with various younger, handsome men in front of their friends and neighbors is but one of the film’s nagging mysteries.
Based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith, whose dark thrillers about sociopathic antiheroes have provided source material for more than two dozen films and television episodes, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1954) and Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Deep Water presents us with a conundrum of identification, daring us to view the world through either the increasingly unhinged eyes of the quiet, but seething and jealous husband or the carnal wife who flaunts her affairs in a way that is simultaneously ridiculous and cruel. There are hints that Vic and Melinda once had something, but by the time we join their story, there is nothing between them outside of a shared house (they sleep in separate bedrooms) and a six-year-old daughter named Trixie (Grace Jenkins) on whom Vic dotes and who Melinda seems to wish didn’t exist. They are wealthy—as are most of Lyne’s protagonists—as Vic made a fortune designing a computer chip used in drone warfare, which gives them too much free time to attend various lavish parties and dinners with their equally wealthy friends. These gatherings are fuel for Melinda’s affairs, as she seems to take particular pleasure in parading her current lover in front of everyone with the satisfaction of both her own desirability and Vic’s willingness to tolerate it.
But, things don’t stay that way forever, as Vic begins to demonstrate signs of violence, starting with his straight-faced suggestion to Melinda’s most current lover, a dumb-blonde musician named Joel (Brendan C. Miller), that he killed one of her previous lovers, who has indeed gone missing. Is he just joking or is he threatening? It’s anyone’s guess, as Affleck plays Vic as a man who simultaneously grovels to Melinda for messing up one of her affairs while also being clearly capable of real violence. When Melinda takes on a new lover, a gifted pianist named Charlie De Lisle (Jacob Elordi), it appears that Vic has finally reached the breaking point, which is where Deep Water descends fully into Hitchcockian terrain, drawing out the sickening suspense as Vic is pursued by a nosy screenwriter (Tracy Letts) who suspects foul play. The film pushes us to want Vic to literally get away with murder, at which he seems both utterly adept and completely incompetent (the balance here is unfortunately off, suggesting less an impassioned, novice murderer struggling to figure things out than an unsettled sense of character that needed to be better refined at the script stage).
When Deep Water works, it is slickly engaging, pushing our clockwork buttons in ways both expected and unexpected. Unfortunately, the film is too uneven to fully work, as it digs into some generally nasty territory without engaging the depths that the much better and more honest Unfaithful did. That film really dug into the dramatic interplay of guilt and desire, whereas Deep Water often just feels contrived and shallow in the way it plays up Melinda’s salacious sexuality, which is fundamentally shallow and immature in its showiness. Affleck spends far too much time glowering with thin, pursed lips as he is constantly made the cuckold, while de Armas shoots wicked, taunting looks at him that turn her sexuality into not just a betrayal of their marriage, but an affront to his identity. It is too easy to loathe Melinda for her casual cruelty and manipulation—she’s a bad wife and a bad mother—but somewhere near the end Lyne wants us to feel sympathy for her, even as she arguably goes down a path even worse than the one she has already been treading. It is tricky territory that might have worked better and had a more profound and lasting effect had it been treated with more dramatic heft and less pulpy-erotic scheming.
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