A throwback picture to the erotic thrillers of the 90s works if the film is as intelligent as it perceives its audience to be. Longtime filmmaker Adrian Lyne looks like an old dog with no new tricks. Returning from a hiatus spanning over a decade, Mr. Lyne starts on a promising path painting a portrait of a wealthy, power-hungry couple who want to destroy each other since they already have everything. What begins as an intriguing thriller stumbles its way through the third act with the grace of a drunk sorority girl.
During a grand socialite party within the Allen household, Vic’s (Ben Affleck) wife Melinda (Ana de Armas) is caught fooling around with her man friend Joel (Brendan Miller). Unfortunately for Melinda, Vic saw everything. Then again, she certainly didn’t try to hide her flirtations in front of everyone at the party.
To ease his frustration, Vic encounters Joel at the party by fabricating a story about killing a missing man from the town who happens to be another one of Melinda’s boy toys. However, we’re left unsure whether Vic fictionalized his confession or not. At least until a certain point where all the mystery is left burning in a garbage can.
Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, Deep Water’s complexity is surface level. The characters mainly serve as accessories to drive an incredibly familiar plot forward. Adrian Lyne is known for erotic films popular in the 80s and 90s, 9 1/2 Weeks, and Fatal Attraction, most notably. How can you not notice? It says it on the poster. The last time Adrian made a film was 2002’s Unfaithful. And I hate to say it; I don’t see the big deal if this is Mr. Sexy Film’s return. Erotic thrillers come across as tacky to me. They’re just watered down pornography with vague hints at a story slapped in for good measure. Deep Water doesn’t help with my perception of these thrillers.
Melinda behaves like a drunken child to get under her husband’s skin, then proceeds to act shocked when Vic threatens Joel after playing grab ass with his wife. You would expect your husband not to threaten to kill the guy, but why test his limits? Countlessly Melinda flaunts herself around like a blowup doll, all while seeing if she can make Vic snap in front of everyone.. The gaslighting weirdly turns the couple on because it’s fun to be bad, but not so fun for all the cheaters Vic kills.
Don’t expect the rabbit hole of these characters to go much deeper than what I already described. If the marketing department didn’t already reveal that Vic’s indeed a killer in the trailers, the film itself does so. At first, we don’t know if Vic’s bluffing with his threats. Once we learn it’s unequivocal that Vic’s dangerous, the movie borrows its inspiration from the talented writers of the Lifetime Channel. The only difference is everyone in this film are terrible people instead of just the killer husband.
I can recall about four scenes or more where Melinda isn’t staggering around with a drink in her hand. Beyond her being an emotionally manipulative trophy wife, what more do we know about her? If Deep Water is supposed to be acomplex thriller about the taboos of seduction and violence, then go somewhere deeper than surface level. Your protagonists can be insufferable but sympathetic at the same time. You can create an awful human being like Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta. LaMotta is a violent sleezebag who’s rewarded by his masculine obsessed culture for his behavior. Where we should discard and hate LaMotta, the film builds a world that puts you in Jake’s head. A world filled with abuse. Raging Bull constructs a heightened reality, making everything around Jake look like a threat.
Everything similar to Jake’s issue with masculinity exists with Vic’s desperation to make his wife fear him, although she never gives in. Except in Raging Bull, a part of us feels bad for Jake because he’s psychologically a child who never got the help he needed. Sometimes he simply doesn’t know better where Vic’s simply a villain, as is his wife Melinda.
Deep Water can keep its ship in the era it’s from. If Adrian Lyne needs lessons on how to talk about sex in movies he should look to Steve McQueen’s Shame. I don’t need to see another story about the scary rich husband and his thirsty wife. Movies are about human beings. Whether about Jake LaMotta or Batman, a good film finds something relatable within a character’s psyche. None of that stuff matters in this film, just get to the sex and violence! During two particular scenes, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at how slapped together everything felt . It’s as if Adrian Lyne had no time for planning, so they just started winging it. The look on Ben Affleck’s face in some of the third act’s shots screamed sad Ben meme. I hope he’s okay.