Directed by Adrian Lyne | Written by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, based on a story by Patricia Highsmith | 115 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Amazon Prime
A couple of things I want to say off the top about this movie.
Grace Jenkins, who plays Trixie, the six-or-seven-year-old daughter of Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck’s characters — she’s a full-on bandit the way she steals scenes. If the first act of the film had simply been her singing along to Leo Sayer in the back of the car I’d have given it my highest rating.
The second is Adrian Lyne, director of indelible ’80s entertainments Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, and Fatal Attraction, he hasn’t lost a step in the style department. This has all the slippery, slightly sleazy, perfectly framed and lit vibes of his best work.
Deep Water isn’t quite an erotic thriller, not like you might’ve heard. It’s more a portrait of a fucked-up marriage and the shadow of violence deep inside it. From Patricia Highsmith, whose Tom Ripley has haunted cinema for decades, it’s good to see more of her work get brought to the screen.
Vic Van Allen (Affleck) is independently wealthy, having designed chips for drone warfare and retired to a huge house in some Louisiana small town — clearly New Orleans, though — with his (much younger) wife, Melinda (de Armas) and daughter, the delightful Trixie. They have a pretty great life: they go to or host a lot of parties with friends — at least some of whom are also notably in May/September relationships, like the couple played by Kristen Connolly and Tracy Letts.
What’s weird is Vic likes to cultivate snails… but not for eating. It’s unclear why he does this. As a visual metaphor, it’s not the most exciting I can think of.
That’s not the only thing that’s strange: Melinda’s clearly having flings with a number of young men in the town, parading them in front of her husband who seems pretty good at sublimating his jealous anger — until he isn’t. His pals (including the unfortunately under-utilized Lil Rel Howery and Rachel Blanchard) try to say something to him about how she behaves, but he’s on his own trip. He says he refuses to govern her behaviour while he silently suffers.
At first the tension here is around whether he actually has been killing her lovers, and then, later on, when certain things are revealed, how things could possibly resolve between them without one of them killing the other.
I won’t say it all makes sense… in fact, as we go along, it makes less and less of it.
Vic does things that can’t be explained rationally — there’s something to do with a wallet later on that’s totally baffling. Her motivations are a bit of a mystery, too. Is she simply a nymphomaniac, or is she just looking to get a reaction from her too-stolid husband?
And, more to that point, how did they even get to this place in their relationship? Was she always like this or is her flagrant enthusiasm for other dudes a new thing? Was he always so distant and buttoned down, saying he’s cool with her infidelity? Was he ever actually?
These questions remain as the credits roll, but I wasn’t too bothered. That’s because Deep Water is wildly entertaining, the kind of movie Lyne has always made — whether good or bad or so bad it’s good, he knows how to keep us involved and he’s done it again with this one. It goes places that are unpredictable because it doesn’t make any sense, and that’s fine if the journey is where we have the best time.
A major tip of the critical hat to the two leads. Ana de Armas has recently been cast in a biopic of Marilyn Monroe, and for the first time I can understand why — she’s magnetic and then some. In these times of largely sexless Hollywood cinema, it’s refreshing to bear witness to her character’s unapologetic horniness.
And Affleck, you sly dog! So uncomfortable in those Batman pants, it’s great to see him play a character like this, a brother to his Nick Dunne from Gone Girl. Affleck’s a not entirely likeable screen presence — he never has been — and a role where he can lean into that slight douchebaggery really works. He’s scarily plausible, and this role is surely a career best for him or close to it.
In the end, the whys of it all hardly matter and that’s clear even to the filmmakers — make sure you watch through the credits for maybe the best during-credit sting in the history of cinema. It’s like a delightful note to say, hey, we know what was the single best moment of this movie — here’s some more of it.