"Deep Water" might be remembered - if at all - for being the movie that started an off-screen romance between its two stars, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas. There must have been real chemistry between the two, but you'd never know it by watching "Deep Water," a cold plunge into shallow erotic thriller territory, by a director who has been kept on ice for nearly two decades.
"Deep Water" has had a rocky ride to even see the light of day. Based on the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith, it waded through pre-production hell for nearly 6 years before finally being greenlit back in 2018. Director Adrian Lyne seemed like the absolute perfect fit for this tawdry, brazen bit of erotica - a story about a married couple with an "open" relationship, that turns deadly. Lyne had championed the niche genre in the 80s and beyond, with ground-breaking (not to mention eye-opening) adult thrillers like "9 1/2 Weeks," "Fatal Attraction," "Indecent Proposal" and the 2002 "Unfaithful," the latter of which landed Diane Lane an Oscar-nomination for Best Actress.
Shot back in 2019, it was delayed again and again by the pandemic, and was recently pushed to Hulu where it will debut this weekend. Dubbed "The IT couple of quarantine" by the tabloids, the Affleck/de Armas romance that blossomed before the pandemic seemed to have ended sometime in early 2021, giving the former pair ample time to prepare for the "Deep Water" press tour going on presently.
The off-screen steam that they produced (evident in several leaked paparazzi photos) is far hotter than anything they are able to concoct on-screen, and Lyne's take on the film feels limp and dysfunctional - it's a time-capsule-of-a-film caught between a bygone era of what used to be acceptable and the #MeToo era of Hollywood. Perhaps this current version of "Deep Water" isn't the same film that Lyne might have made 20 or 30 years ago, but it's undeniably a movie that provides little to no spark...a movie that want's to "go there" but visibly pulls on its own reins time and time again.
Vic (Affleck) is a wealthy and now retired app developer, married to the promiscuous and sexually-liberated Melinda (de Armas). They have a young daughter, Trixie (Grace Jenkins) but have seemingly come to some kind of understanding in their marriage. Melinda openly seduces other men, and Vic allows it in order to prevent divorce. He makes an off-color joke to one of her current boy-toys at a party, about how he murdered a previous man who got too close to his wife. But when there is an actual murder, Vic becomes the key suspect. The always dependable Tracy Letts co-stars as an author who is on Vic's trail.
Despite the movie NOT taking place in the 50s when the source material was written (Vic is an app developer after all, they all have cell phones, security cameras, etc), there are some laughably implausible things that stick the story right back in its original timeframe. For one, the off-color joke circulates around town until everyone has heard it, without it ever existing on social media. When's the last time a "rumor" has circulated between housewives and neighbors? Even the premise itself is a bit outdated in 2022...is the sanctity of marriage so important that Vic would allow these shenanigans to go on all for the sake of not getting a divorce? Since the 50s, you might recall, divorce is the new getting married.
The shortcomings of the film are plenty, but the performances are not among them. I found Affleck to be very effective...it's a subdued performance but this is a subdued man wrestling with several inner-demons that he is trying to keep from surfacing. Ana de Armas is a stunning talent and beauty and really leans into the role of seductress.
No, the problem lies in the script and its execution. Sure, both Affleck and de Armas are effective, but on the page neither character is likable even in the least. I quickly realized I definitely wasn't rooting for either of them, nor was I hoping that this marriage would stay the course. The sex scenes feel rushed and hastily edited, while the rest of the film feels stretched and mundane. There are several distractions and annoyances, like the appearance of Lil Rel Howery, who most certainly got this role when he discovered that the filmmakers were looking for a "Lil Rel Howery type." Can someone please cast this man as something - anything - other than a supportive, non-descript, two-dimensional best bud?
"Deep Water" is Lyne's first directorial effort since "Unfaithful" 20 years ago, and let's just say that the world has changed a great deal since then. The now 80+ year-old director still seems mesmerized by the naked body, and the psychological dynamics between a (married) man and a woman. While "Deep Water" feels up his alley, he doesn't have anything new, or at all, to say. So what exactly is his attraction to this specific genre?
This is a dreary, bland piece of cinema...an "erotic thriller" that is barely either of those words. The frame feels sapped of color, the music uninspired. The performances are not enough to overcome the weakness of the script. It definitely feels like a solid choice to push this to a streaming platform and forego theaters, but even at home, there's not enough here to keep you in your seat.
In the male dominated world of film criticism, you might find some that give this movie a pass, perhaps enamored by the site of boobies and sex on film, but nothing about "Deep Water" deserves applaud. This isn't a relationship worn raw...it's just under-cooked.
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Grace Jenkins, Brendan Miller, Lil Rel Howery.
Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.
Directed by Adrian Lyne ("Unfaithful," "Lolita," "Indecent Proposal," "Jacob's Ladder," "Fatal Attraction," "9 1/2 Weeks," "Flashdance").
"Deep Water" is streaming on Hulu on Friday, March 18th, 2022.
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