Oh, DEEP WATER. I have to go on record to say that I enjoyed the film a lot and I think that Adrian Lyne and the actors made the best choice to play the characters in a serious manner. Patricia Highsmith’s novels are complex stories where the reader and the viewer are encouraged to sympathize with people who would normally be cast as villains in any other piece. It’s actually a great time for this film adaptation to come out because audiences are much more comfortable with antiheroes who do bad things and don’t feel any remorse or who play psychological games with others’ minds and emotions.
Here is the film’s official synopsis: DEEP WATER takes us inside the marriage of picture-perfect Vic and Melinda Van Allen to discover the dangerous mind games they play and what happens to the people that get caught up in them.”
DEEP WATER stars Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting, Gone Girl) as Vic Van Allen, Ana de Armas (Knives Out, No Time To Die) as Melinda Van Allen, Tracy Letts (Little Women, Ford V Ferrari) as Don Wilson, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Vacation Friends) as Grant, Dash Mihok (“Ray Donovan”, Silver Linings Playbook) as Jonas Fernandez, Finn Wittrock (“American Horror Story”, “Ratched”) as Tony Cameron, Kristen Connolly (“Zoo”) as Kelly Wilson, Jacob Elordi (“Euphoria”, The Kissing Booth) as Charlie De Lisle, Rachel Blanchard (“You Me Her”) as Kristin Peterson, Michael Braun (The Tender Bar) as Jeff Peterson, Jade Fernandez (“Law And Order: SVU”) as Jen Fernandez, Brendan C. Miller (“Animal Kingdom”, In Time) as Joel Dash, Devyn A. Tyler (“Snowfall”) as Mary Washington, Jeff Pope (“The Underground Railroad”) as Police Chief Nichols and introducing Grace Jenkins as Trixie.
The performances of the actors are well done. Ben Affleck does some of his better and more subtle work that he’s done since Gone Girl. He’s working from the same toolbox that he did when he played Nick Dunn, but he’s far more sympathetic in this film. It’s very much dialed down for Affleck. His performance stands in contrast to the more passionate and taut performance by Ana de Armas. De Armas is very talented and charismatic and has proven that with her recent turns in Knives Out and No Time To Die. In this, she plays the classic adulterous vixen as a flawed human being. You don’t like what she’s doing, but you can understand why she’s doing it. Her performance is very sensual. Lil Rel Howery stands out among the cast as he usually does, but the cast is full of character actors who do good work and have personal charisma.
Both characters are flawed in ways that interlock with each other. Vic is unable to show his (deep) emotions and Melinda is unable to ask for attention and the gestures of love that she craves. They are both in love with an unsuitable partner and unable to communicate their needs. However, both of them crave the danger of their relationship and its lack of boundaries. They are both unwilling to expose their vulnerabilities to anyone. Melinda avoids this by staying married to Vic but flitting from lover to lover. Vic does this by staying in a marriage with a partner who torments him but dotes on their daughter. Neither one of them is capable of a mature and balanced love. They are at war constantly because both are jealous of their partner’s seeming indifference. They both act indifferent to each other because that is the only way that they think they can hold on to the relationship. Their relationship mystifies, enthralls, and appalls their neighbors and friends. It could be seen as akin to the relationship between George and Martha in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?. People who are locked in marriage as a battle of wills.
This movie is also dialed down for Adrian Lyne as a director. It is less of a stylistic showpiece like 9 ½ Weeks and Lolita and more grounded work about adult sexual relationships like Unfaithful. That’s not to say that it isn’t stylish, because it is, but the style is not as upfront as some of his most famous works of the 90s. I see it less as an erotic thriller, although it has elements of that, and more of a film about the psychological mechanics of desire, jealousy, and love. One of my favorite touches is that their daughter Trixie has learned from the behavior of Melinda and indulges in some torture herself, admittedly of a minor variety.
Highsmith’s novels really challenge their readers because of where the writer directs the reader’s sympathies. DEEP WATER is true to the novel’s spirit by keeping that type of viewpoint even though slight changes are made to the original novel’s narrative. As with most Highsmith, is there murder? Oh yes, there’s lots of murder although most of the violence is offscreen. Is there sex? You bet, including a fairly risky encounter in a car that is not advisable on the open highway, but still fun. How do I know? Don’t ask.
Sam Levinson (“Euphoria”, Assassination Nation) and Zach Helm (Stranger Than Fiction) wrote the screenplay and I think they did a great job adapting the book. The changes that they made stripped the story of some of the classic Highsmith characteristics but, in adapting the film, seem to have a firmer grasp on the author’s viewpoint and characterizations than the previous mainstream adaptation of Highsmith’s work, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Lyne and his actors are committed to this more audacious version of a Highsmith novel. While the actors play it completely straight – except for Tracy Letts and his enjoyable turn, the film is committed to the author’s own mind games and sympathy for evil. I think I would like to watch it again, but I believe that DEEP WATER is probably my favorite Adrian Lyne film.
DEEP WATER is a well-made and enjoyable film. I laughed all the way through but it was mainly because of the direction of the story and where the sympathy for the characters lies. It’s also possibly because there may be something wrong with me. I can’t get more into it without spoiling but is there comedy? Yes. Is it unintentional? No. I think that one of the things that is baked into Highsmith’s novels is a morbid humor and an empathy for or a love of human monsters. Patricia Highsmith really enjoys having her psychologically unstable characters murder other people for money, love, and possibly out of boredom. I’ve always believed that art can actually keep people from going wrong in life and that some of our greatest artists might have ended up in jail for various crimes had they not found expression of their inner selves in their respective crafts. Her work points out that even murderers are human and have their reasons why they do the things that they do. It points out that maybe we aren’t as different as we think we are from society’s pariahs
DEEP WATER arrives on Hulu on Friday, March 18, 2022.