Deep Water

I’m not sure who put it out there that this was an ‘erotic thriller’. It is probably because the director is Adrian Lyne who in the 80s and 90s was Hollywood’s main purveyor of such films, with 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. He is certainly still interested in sex and seduction as a weapon and this is a part of his latest movie but it definitely isn’t as racy as much of his previous work. Curiously some of the criticism of the film focuses on this, decrying it for its lack of sensuality and titillation. Essentially, some people seem to think there isn’t enough nudity and bonking in the film.

The absence of this is okay though. You know why?

Because it’s 2022.

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What Lyne is essentially doing here is trying to show us what these kind of films look like in current times, when intimacy coordinators are a thing and where casual sexism isn’t, at least not as much. Is the movie missing anything in this respect? Absolutely not.

I think the issue is that what is left is a little lacklustre and slow. To be fair, if you took the sex out of Lyne’s previous work they wouldn’t fare much better but that’s not a reason to have it in there. What is needed is better scripting and story, not more nipples.

Deep Water features Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck as a wealthy couple who have an open relationship, something that she makes the most of more than him. Soon and inevitably jealousy raises its head though and he starts passively aggressively threatening her lovers. The question is whether he is doing more than this as some of these other guys suddenly wind up dead. The plot is adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name but the ending is significantly different and much of the intrigue stumbles as there is no great surprise when you find out to what extent the rumours going around concerning Affleck’s Vic are true. Ben’s buddy Matt definitely got the better Highsmith inspired screenplay with The Talented Mr. Ripley; there is no twist here, no last act revelations, the film just wanders gently toward its conclusion.

Actually let me correct that; it wanders gently toward the brink of its conclusion and then runs screaming to the finish line in its last twenty minutes but I will pick up on that shortly.

The performances are actually good, it is a shame they weren’t in a better film. Affleck has played creepy characters before in The Last Thing He Wanted, The Last Duel, Gone Girl and arguably Justice League. These characters have always been ostensible good guys with a dark edge though and in Deep Water he takes this sinister ambiguity to the next level. His portrayal of a man who is treading the fine line between playing arrogant jokes on people or actually being threatening is quite compelling.

Next to Affleck, Ana de Armas is incandescent and confidently continues her journey toward her place on the Hollywood A-List. She is also playing a troubled character who you are never quite sure if you can side with but she lights up every scene she is in like an early Ingrid Bergman. In some respects her Melinda is a step backward to her first American film Knock Knock in which she was cast as a seedy femme fatale whose skimpy clothes were either wet or off through most of the movie. Even though she is required to sex it up hugely and occasionally take her top off for the camera here as well, she is a strong woman with incredible, unstoppable agency. Melinda is certainly much less of a victim here than she was in Highsmith’s book, something that the rewritten denouement demonstrably addresses. I think Lyne’s intension is to show that a female character can be sexy without being sexist and he mostly achieves this. de Armas has seemingly fought against objectification her whole career, Blade Rummer 2049 had her undressed for significant chunks time as well, and whereas with Knives Out she appeared to have finally escaped this, apparently not. I’m not saying that she can’t be both a beautiful and a strong woman, No Time to Die proved this was possible, but she is definitely more Sharon Stone than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in this one.

Interestingly, so much of de Armas and Affleck’s characterisation is in how they are as parents. They play mother and father to seven year old Trixie and he is definitely the most doting of the two. It is hard to know if his true personality is how he is with her or how he is with adults but contrasting as his manners are, Affleck manages to make this work. It is his love for his daughter and his fear of losing full access to her that certainly drives his defensiveness. He is the lioness in this scenario, not his wife. Melinda does love their little girl but her own needs come first. It has to be said that Grace Jenkins who plays Trixie steals every scene that she is in. She is an incredibly charismatic child and actually the director’s plan to highlight this leads to a delightful but oddly jarring mid credit scene. This might be there to show how their adjusted family life has found a new normal at the end, but actually it feels more like something from a gag reel.

What then of that ending? Up until this point you feel like you’ve spent a lot of time watching snails slide across glass (largely because you literally have but you can discover this for yourself) then suddenly it becomes a mix of violence and car chases that feel like they belong in a totally different film. I’m not sure I want to criticise it for this as it is a clear directorial choice but it does feel uneven. Just a couple of moments of action earlier on would have fixed this. Perhaps this is why some reviewers have felt there was action was missing from the bedroom.

Deep Water is not a great film but I don’t think it is worth the two star ratings it has got. It is flawed but interesting and still worth jumping into.

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Deep Water is released in the UK on Amazon Prime

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