Deep Water – Movie Review

Deep Water

  • Director: Adrian Lyne
  • Writers: Zach Helm, Sam Levinson
  • Starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, Finn Witrock, Rachel Blanchard

Grade: B-

On the surface, Vic and Melinda live a carefree, exuberant lifestyle. He retired early after developing and selling microchip technology which is now used for drone warfare. His days mostly consist of riding his bike around town, tending to his snail collection, and spending time with their daughter. As for Melinda, we’ll get to that shortly. They live in an upper-class mansion and attend formal catered dinner parties with their friends, seemingly on a weekly basis. But look closer, and their life together is far from ideal. In fact, most of their friends openly acknowledge how troubling their public life has become, voicing their concerns to Vic whenever possible.

The erotic thriller film has been much less prevalent in Hollywood throughout the 21st Century, so it’s fitting that Adrian Lyne is returning after a 20 year absence to direct Deep Water. Lyne is the maestro of many classics in the genre, like Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, and Unfaithful. Which is all the more befuddling why the film feels so rudderless, bizarrely mixing tones, sometimes within the same scene, and barely working successfully.

Deep Water; Hulu

Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith with a screenplay written by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, Deep Water sees Melinda flaunting a series of romantic trysts in front of her husband, usually in public, with little regard for his feelings on the matter. Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas star as Vic and Melinda, and their chemistry together, adversarial as it may be, goes a long way to keep the film afloat. Affleck broods effectively, and while the film and its themes invite many comparison’s to his stellar work in Gone Girl, Deep Water is much more straightforward in its plotting and social commentary. 

Most notably, the film never really invests any time in Melinda as a real person. If Melinda exists simply to be sexy and alluring, de Armas nails the role with aplomb. But if she exists to have her own interiority, or an external motivation for her salacious actions, the film fails her. It’s not long into the film that Melinda ditches Vic at a party to flirt and drink with Joel (Brendan C. Miller), a dopey muscle-head who quickly realizes he’s in over his head. Vic makes overt references to a former friend of Melinda’s who mysteriously went missing, a psychological move that’s intended to scare Joel away. The rest of the film continues this way, with Melinda moving from one paramour to the next, and Joel sitting by, with an escalation devolving into murder and deeper mind-games between the pair.

Deep Water; Hulu

But why and when did all of this begin? Why does Melinda continue this behavior? Was there some prior infidelity on Vic’s part, for which she’s now seeking revenge? Why don’t the two simply divorce? The film is maddeningly unclear on all of these questions, instead resting on spectacle and shallow plot developments. Deep Water primarily invests itself in Vic and his headspace, but it’s never even mentioned what Melinda does for a living. Objectively, Vic is a monster, and his actions should be indefensible by the end of the film, as he murders and threatens anyone that interferes with his marriage, but it’s Lyne’s devoted focus on him that somehow prevents this from happening.

Deep Water also has an issue with its supporting cast. Tracy Letts appears in a thankless role as a suspicious husband; Lil Rel Howery and Dash Mihok show up to add some unnecessary comic relief, and to function as a sort of Greek chorus in some scenes. Finn Witrock and Jacob Elrodi arrive late as ill-fated suitors, providing their own unique energies but failing to make lasting impressions due to their prolapsed screen time.

Deep Water; Hulu

It’s not until the final act of the film that the game between Vic and Melinda, and their reasons for playing it, becomes clearer, though the script could have easily provided greater clarity. Consider it as a series of #FirstWorldProblems, where its leads leave a wake of destroyed lives behind them, with little to no regard of anyone but themselves. There’s something interesting there, but the film doesn’t lean hard enough into this idea.

Originally shot in late 2019 and delayed because of the pandemic, the film was briefly pulled from Hulu’s schedule entirely at the end of 2021, only coming back after fans demanded its release. Indeed, if anything, the film provides an interesting tidbit of pop culture knowledge, as its production led to an off-screen romance between de Armas and Affleck, lasting almost a year. If you simply want to sit back and watch two incredibly good-looking people be incredibly good looking, Deep Water will be a reliable, if short-lived, bit of entertainment. But while the film succeeds at being a sexy thriller, with an energetic finale, it’s frustratingly inert at exploring what making its characters anything beyond sexy.

Deep Water will be available to stream on Hulu on March 18, 2022.

OSCAR POTENTIAL:

  • Adrian Lyne’s last film, Unfaithful, netted Diane Lane a Best Actress nomination at the 2003 Oscars. Don’t expect the same love here, as Ana de Armas is much likelier to gain Academy attention for her upcoming turn as Marilyn Monroe later this year in Blonde. And, though the Academy has rewarded Affleck in the past, that love won’t extend to his role here.

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