Mark Reviews Movies

THE DEEP END

3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Scott McGehee, David Siegel

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat, Raymond Barry, Josh Lucas

MPAA Rating: R (for some violence and language, and for a strong sex scene)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 8/8/01


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Review by Mark Dujsik

The Deep End is a strange thriller—never suspenseful, never scary—yet it maintains a tremendous intrigue that carries the whole film. I am actually quite amazed by how involved I was in a film that never engulfed me with its actual intentions. I’m not exactly sure how this material could have achieved adequate suspense, but the filmmakers cannot be criticized for not trying. The movie twists so many conventions, indulges in so much dramatic irony, it is difficult to not get caught up in everything going on. However, for a movie so intent on enwrapping the audience in a family drama, it has a major flaw: lack of actual character development.

The main twist on convention comes from the perspective of the film. It’s a thriller from the point of view of a housewife. Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) lives on Lake Tahoe in California with her three children and father-in-law, Jack (Peter Donat). Her husband is in the Navy and away. Contact with him is rare and conversations are simple. Beau (Jonathan Tucker), her oldest son, is homosexual and in a relationship with Darby Reese (Josh Lucas), a particularly sleazy older man. Margaret has just learned all of this information after Beau was in a car accident, under the influence, with Darby. To help keep Beau out of trouble, Margaret offers Darby money to stay away from her son. Later that night, Darby comes to the house for Beau and, after a fight and out of Beau’s sight, falls off a dock and onto an anchor. Margaret finds the body, and thinking her son is responsible, dumps it by some rocks in the lake.

The most interesting aspect of this twist on perspective is watching how Margaret must juggle covering up what she thinks is murder and keeping family obligations. Once the body is discovered, the police immediately suspect foul play, and Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic of TV’s "ER") comes to the house demanding money for a tape that could shed suspicion on Beau. There’s a great sequence in which she spends a whole day trying to get the money with the climax involving a family problem. Soon enough, the entire movie makes a complete turnaround as Alek does something completely out of character with most blackmailers. Once this event occurs, it becomes difficult to see exactly where the movie is going. Considering that until this point everything that has happened is to be expected, the twist reinvigorates the entire plot.

As I said before, the film lacks suspense, and this is mostly due to the absence of an emotional hook. The characters here are afraid to talk openly with one another. While this leads to many misunderstandings—incidents that give great potential to a thriller—the situation leaves little to no potential for drama. The degree of the audience’s involvement on an emotional level to the story depends entirely on how much they sympathize with the characters. Margaret is obviously a sympathetic character because of her intentions and Beau due to his innocence, although knowing that all they need to do is simply talk to each other to correct the problem extremely detracts from any connection to either of them.

Tilda Swinton has garnered much praise for her performance here, and it is easy to see why. She is in full control of her character’s emotional and psychological complexities. Yes, it’s distracting that Margaret will not talk to her son, but as played by Swinton, we believe there is a reason why she won’t. This is a tricky performance. It depends on many quiet moments, and this is where she shines. Note the sequence in which she discovers the body. Devoid of any dialogue, we see her thought process in ridding her home of death and evidence. If Swinton does falter anywhere, it is in her dialogue—specifically her dialect. An English actress, she sounds as though she is biting out each and every word to maintain her American accent. It is a somewhat minor quibble considering the overall complexity of the performance, but this extreme enunciation is more than occasionally distracting.

I never had an emotional investment in The Deep End, but it grabbed me on an intellectual level. That alone is an accomplishment, but it doesn’t completely make up for what’s lacking. I admired the film’s overall craft and structure, but without capturing my complete sympathies, it misses greatness.

Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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