With “Deep Water,” I could not help but feel a certain level of excitement at its arrival. With erotic thrillers, it feels like we have been in a drought of them at our local cinema. Sure, there was the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, but those movies were far more laughable than they ever were truly entertaining. This one also marks the return of Adrian Lyne to the director’s chair for the first time in 20 years, and he is known for specializing in erotic films such as “9 ½ Weeks,” “Fatal Attraction” and “Unfaithful.” And yes, the trailer in which we get to gaze at Ana de Armas’ lovely body as Ben Affleck gazes at her from a distance proved to be ever so alluring. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, it is based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, the same author who wrote “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Strangers from a Train?” This should have been the first I pointed out here.
Seriously, all these elements were in place for a great motion picture for us to take in, but despite an interesting start, “Deep Water” ends up faltering long before it ends as secrets are revealed far too soon to where the suspense is completely destroyed for no good reason. Also, the film is nowhere as erotic as you may hope it will be. Moreover, Disney, which bought 20th Century Fox and since renamed it 20th Century Studios, decided to dump it on Hulu as even Mickey Mouse was saying, “Even Minnie wouldn’t show me that much skin!” Well, some only get so lucky,
Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas star as Vic and Melinda Van Allen, a married couple living in the small town of Little Wesley, Louisiana who appear to have it all: an affluent lifestyle, a gorgeous home where they host many parties for their equally affluent friends, a beautiful daughter named Trixie (Grace Jenkins) who keeps telling Alexa to play “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to her mother’s infinite annoyance, and anyone outside of their lifestyle must be looking at them with either envy or tremendous resentment. Their marriage, however, appears to be a loveless one as Melinda seems far more interested in flirting with the many incredibly handsome men around her as Vic looks on, wondering what she is up to. On one hand, Vic seems content with her being with other men as he is willing to accept her for who she is, but the more you look into his eyes, the more you see how frustrated he is with this situation to where he might actually become emotional. This frustration becomes even more pronounced once some of the men Melinda is seen with are found dead. Were they murdered? What’s really going on with this couple?
Lyne tantalizes us with these questions in the first half of “Deep Water” as, while he used to show us a lot of wild sex in his previous films, only hints at what is going on here. Vic may be convinced Melinda is sleeping with other men, but he only sees so much of what she is up to. In the meantime, he tells her potential suitors that he murdered a man who was once her boyfriend. Is he being serious? It’s hard to say as Affleck is quick to remind us what a gifted poker player he can be, and that’s even if he has been banned for life from a casino or two.
Indeed, this film works best when the screenplay does not reveal all its cards to the audience. Affleck seems to revel in getting under the skin of others to where you wonder just how much his character enjoys in doing so. The same goes with de Armas who appears to revel in her husband’s inability to obtain her in the ways a husband can. As Vic and Melinda circle around one another like bloodthirsty sharks, I began to wonder if their continued relationship was strengthened by their endless strife with one another. While divorce might make more sense for these two, the conflicts between them seem to invigorate them to where a normal life is completely out of the question for them. It even reminded of a season six episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street” entitled “Strangled, Not Stirred” in which we see a couple achieve supreme intimacy through murder. I figured things here would go in this direction with these characters, but no such luck.
When “Deep Water” reaches its midway point, it completely implodes as it reveals its cards to where the suspense is killed. In fact, things become increasingly laughable as the story barrels towards a conclusion that is unforgivably abrupt and unsatisfying. Like I said, this one comes from the director of “Fatal Attraction” which had one of the most divisive endings in cinematic history, but at least its ending had a catharsis which it demanded despite what others thought. This one, however, leaves far too many story threads to where I have to wonder if there’s a director’s cut just waiting for us to check out.
In retrospect, “Deep Water” might have been far more interesting if Lyne had focused more on the characters played by Affleck and Tracy Letts who plays Don Wilson. Don is immediately suspicious of Vic, especially after he playfully admits to murder, and seeing these two together in one scene to the next is especially fulfilling as we are watching actors who enjoy not just facing against one another, but are also eager to turn their characters into anything but mere cliches this genre often employs to a detrimental extent.
Considering the talent involved, I could not help but have high expectations for “Deep Water” as it arrives at a time when superhero/comic book movies continue to dominate our local multiplexes to where we wonder if variety is still a thing. Moreover, movies for adults are a thing I have been deprived of for far too long. Even with it going straight to streaming, I figured there was much more in store for the audience. That it falls short of greatness is frustrating as it may be a long time before we get another motion picture of its ilk.
In my research, I did learn this particular Highsmith novel is a favorite of Gillian Flynn’s who deeply admired how it showed the in-your-face warfare between a husband and wife. I believed this novel inspired her to write “Gone Girl” which became a bestseller and was later adapted into the twisted cinematic masterpiece directed by David Fincher. Whether or not “Deep Water” aspired to be on the same level as “Gone Girl,” it came up far too short.
When all is said and done, Lyne’s movie makes me want to pick up a copy of Highsmith’s novel even though I have so many books on my shelf to where it looks like a Jenga piece on the verge of collapsing. I am convinced a great movie can be made out of this novel, but we have yet to see it.
* * out of * * * *