CAST: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Rachel Blanchard, Lil Rel Howery, Finn Wittrock, Jacob Elordi, Dash Mihok, Kristen Connolly, Jade Fernandez, Michael Braun, Michael Scialabba
RUNNING TIME: 115 mins
BASICALLY…: An unhappily married couple (Affleck and de Armas) begin to play dangerous mind-games with each other that soon become deadly…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Some of you might not immediately know who director Adrian Lyne is, but chances are you’ll have seen some of his films: ever heard of Flashdance, 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Jacob’s Ladder and Indecent Proposal? That’s the guy. The same one, in fact, who’s just returned to filmmaking after a twenty-year break following 2002’s Unfaithful, and just like the rest of them, Lyne’s Deep Water – based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith – is an erotically-charged thriller which predominantly relies on the leads’ sexual chemistry to run its batteries.
Is it a welcome return to familiar territory for the filmmaker, or does the twenty-year gap really show? Yes (kinda) to both, for while it’s cool seeing this director back at it and making the kind of movie that we just don’t get enough of nowadays, you can tell that the spark which previously ignited the likes of Fatal Attraction and 9½ Weeks isn’t flowing exactly how it used to.
The film stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as married couple Vic and Melinda respectively, who despite their affluent lifestyle –apparently due to his work as a designer of computer chips used for war drones – have long since fallen out of love with each other. It has gotten to a point where Melinda has started taking on a legion of extra-marital lovers, which Vic is fully aware of and seemingly okay with, until he begins messing around with some of her boytoys by declaring that he killed one of her former companions. The rumour swirls amidst their own bunch of friends (among them Tracy Letts as a local writer, and a completely wasteful supporting turn by Lil Rel Howery), but neither Vic nor Melinda seem too fazed by any of it – until some people actually start turning up dead.
Those expecting another Fatal Attraction or 9½ Weeks out of Lyne after all this time might need to brace themselves for some disappointing news, because Deep Water is far tamer than either of those films combined. This is perhaps due to Highsmith’s original 1957 novel not being primarily erotic (though it may have been considered a little racy for its time), but Lyne’s occasional insertions of titillating sex and nudity throughout create the illusion that the adaptation is far raunchier than it actually is, even when half the time such titillation isn’t entirely called for. Narratively and stylistically, it both looks and feels like a spin-off movie set in the Fifty Shades cinematic universe, for like those movies there will be long stretches where very little is happening other than our two leads being utterly miserable around each other, and only every once in a while will there be a sudden burst of hardcore sexual appeal to regain the viewer’s dwindling attention. Even then, it’s all kept relatively low-key, not offering nearly enough of the wild and bonkers nature that some of Lyne’s 90s-era erotic movies unapologetically embraced: sadly, no bunnies are boiled in Deep Water, nor is there a scene of Ben Affleck playing with food over Ana de Armas’ body, but there ARE many scenes of Affleck tending to his snail farm, so… there’s that, I guess.
Speaking of our two leads, there is a striking lack of a genuine spark between them (which is really saying something, given that the two actors briefly dated in real life after working on this film). The two are, of course, playing a couple who have grown to not stand the sight of one another, but at no point does it ever feel like either of them were once truly in love, because their wistful glares at one another offer few hints of any genuine affection that may have been previously reciprocated, and just look like two bitter, seething people who seriously need to get far away from each other at the earliest opportunity. Of the two, only de Armas seems to be injecting the most amount of energy into their performance, while Affleck often looks and acts as though he’s just woken up from a long nap mere seconds before the cameras started rolling, and his performance is the sleepy, uncharged result. There are moments when you just about buy the twisted relationship that these two have, but it’s never enough to save the fleeting lack of sexual chemistry which is crucial for an erotic movie like this.
It’s only when things finally do start to happen, roughly an hour in to this nearly two-hour grind, that the movie becomes a lot more ridiculous, in the same kind of way that some of Lyne’s other films eventually became. Most of it revolves around a growing number of murders committed by the world’s most obvious killer, who doesn’t even hide how much of a psychopath they are, even in front of people who have every reason to suspect them. It’s also one of those films where the killer’s victims only get slaughtered because they’re dumb enough to get into cars with them on a whim and ride out into the middle of nowhere, under the flimsiest of reasons to boot. That won’t even prepare you for the film’s climax, which screams as though it was a note from the producers to cram in some unnecessary action into this otherwise uneventful thriller, with an ending that replaces Highsmith’s original shocker of a conclusion with one that not only makes little sense, but also just stops right when it seems things are about to get even more interesting, at last.
Sadly, though, Deep Water continues to be rather shallow up to the abrupt ending.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Deep Water is a tame and mostly uneventful erotic thriller from director Adrian Lyne, who isn’t able to reignite the spark he brought to some of his earlier features with a thin Patricia Highsmith adaptation that can’t even get much out of its two leads, until a ludicrous second half gives it an unintentionally sillier edge.