Adrian Lyne’s “Deep Water Movie” is under a lot of scrutinies after Disney bought Fox and had no tolerance for a film about horny people.
Some on the internet have been anticipating this project as a return to “movies for adults,” a genre that has undeniably vanished from the studio production line now that almost every film must be rated PG-13.
And the fact that it’s the director of “Fatal Attraction” and “9 12 Weeks” the first film in two decades sets a high bar for the film, which may lead to disappointment.
Will the “Make Movies Sexy Again” crowd overlook some of “Deep Water’s” storytelling flaws, or will this be further proof that the subgenre is creatively dead? Early reactions have been mixed, and there’s no denying that some of this has been through editing hell.
The final act, in particular. I’m looking forward to seeing the rumored longer version because there’s a lot here that works, including a fantastic Ben Affleck performance and the kind of sexual tension that Americans simply don’t have in the 2020s.
“Deep Water,” based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel, doesn’t waste time with the “happy days” of the Van Allen union. Highsmith, who also wrote Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, should give you some idea of the games being played here.
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Vic Van Allen (Affleck) and his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas) are in the throes of a failed partnership when we meet them. They have remained united, ostensibly for the sake of their daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins).
However, there appears to be little love left between the couple. The first extended scene takes place at a party, where Melinda becomes inebriated and flirts with a handsome young man whom she personally invited.
Vic tells the new beau in a private moment that he murdered Melinda’s previous lover, who is now missing. Is he serious? The next day, he claims to be, but the basic plot of the script by Zach Helm (“Stranger Than Fiction”) and Sam Levinson (“Euphoria”) has been set in motion: Melinda cheats, and Vic may kill the guys with whom Melinda cheats.
That’s certainly what Don Wilson (Tracy Letts) believes is going on, and the fact that he drives the plot is a flaw that Helm and Levinson don’t spend enough time emphasizing.
Why is this man putting so much effort and money into his theory that Vic is a murderer? He mentions a book near the end, which could be the only reason.
However, there is an interesting beat when Don meets Vic and they get a little heated over how Van Allen made his money—the type of drone technology used in warfare.
Vic has always regarded human life as disposable. “Deep Water” has an intriguing thematic undercurrent about two people who appear to be very different but are both users—Melinda uses men for pleasure and to provoke her husband.
She says she does it because of how they make her feel at one point. These are selfish beings, two people who succumb to basic instincts in ways that most moral people try to suppress.
Affleck perfectly captures this simmering selfishness, proving to be a perfect fit for the world of the writer who gave us Tom Ripley. In the way he captures Vic’s temperature, Affleck’s work in “Gone Girl” is reminiscent.
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It rises every time he sees Melinda with a new lover, including Jacob Elordi and Finn Wittrock. Why isn’t Vic just giving up? The script, particularly in the final act, hints at some darker themes that a longer version would most likely unpack more fully. Still, Affleck and De Armas sell this psychosexual dysfunction in a way that other actors would have missed.
Lyne knows precisely how to use their physical beauty and sexual chemistry on-screen, reminding viewers how uncommon it is for major movie stars to do so.
I’d also like to mention how frequently Lil Rel Howery has been showing up lately and being so effective in small roles (he also delivers in two SXSW films this year, “I Love My Dad” and “Spin Me Round”). He’s becoming a valuable asset for those looking for a skeptical supporting actor.
While I suspect the abrupt, choppy ending (complete with a ridiculous choice for the closing credits) will irritate some viewers, “Deep Water” had already done enough to win me over.
It’s a nasty piece of work, made by a filmmaker unafraid to see the primal, darker sides that beautiful people hide behind their gorgeous facades.
It may not be the comeback that Lyne fans had hoped for, but it serves as a reminder that this type of film can still be made today. Even if it isn’t tomorrow.