Directed by: Adrian Lyne
Distributed by: 20th Century Studios
Written by Patrick Hao
Adrian Lyne has not made a movie since 2002 with the release of “Unfaithful.” But for 20 years before then, he was the king of the erotic thriller. With films like “Flashdance,” “9½ Weeks,” and “Fatal Attraction,” Lyne was able to bring tawdry sex and stylization that was able to capture the zeitgeist of American culture which publicly was shifting towards more conservative attitudes. Lyne’s films dug deeper into the undercurrent fears and desire of sex, whether it is the cheating husband set to ruin the family (“Fatal Attraction” and “Unfaithful”), the way sex and unfettered capitalism mix (“Flashdance” and “Indecent Proposal”), or sex as a purging of violence (“9½ Weeks” and “Jacob’s Ladder”).
It makes sense then that as American culture has seen a shift towards conservatism when it comes to sex that Lyne is back with a new film, “Deep Water.” The film is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, about a wealthy couple Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas). Vic has retired early making his money off of drones used for warfare, the morality of which he justifies to himself by saying he just made the chip. Melinda also does not work, rather, she finds satisfaction, not in their shared daughter, but in her flirtations with men around town. Vic sees this, not that Melinda is being discreet, but neither he nor their peers do anything about it. Vic keeps his seething to himself.
Melinda gets off just as much on embarrassing her husband as she does with the various bland men she has dalliances with. The plot truly goes into motion when Vic begins spreading a rumor himself that he had killed a missing man who was known to be involved with Melinda. The true suspense is not whether he did it or not, but just how long the pot between these two will be left boiling.
In a way, “Deep Water” is a reflection of 2022 the way that “Fatal Attraction” was for the 1980s. Everything nefarious and untoward is done out in the open and everyone around just politely laughs. All pretenses are kept up as long as Vic and Melinda stay rich. It does not matter how they made it nor how they use it, the same way it seems the tawdry behavior in politics and amongst the rich are accepted.
Affleck in particular is perfectly suited for such a part. Affleck has shown again and again, since “Gone Girl,” the keen ability to utilize his public persona to inform so much of the character. Even the “public relationship” he had with his co-star, De Armas, adds a meta-narrative to the relationship between Vic and Melinda. Affleck’s aloof exterior masks his seething in New England machismo anger. This is a true movie star performance to extract so much from a character inherently subdued.
On the other end of the spectrum is De Armas whose physicality informs her performance. She gets to be a blithe spirit and revel in being a chaos agent in this world. All her actions are marked with dual meaning in what she wants to accomplish. There are also brilliant casting choices in the various men Melinda seeks out. Brendan C. Miller, Jacob Elordi, and Finn Wittrock all are baby-faced men, conventionally handsome but bland all around. Especially when placed next to Affleck, they represent a certain type of pretty-boy male, polished and uncuffed. As actors, they also seem out of their depth – like they wandered on set away from shooting the Netflix original teen rom-com. All the actors, as the kids say, understood the assignment.
Lyne’s film can oscillate between subtlety and bluntness (what do the snails represent – I have my theories). At its worst moments, there is an unevenness to the pacing which can probably be attributed to some edits made by the studio, especially with the rushed third act. The film was delayed several times and is widely known to have negative test audience screenings.
But, Lyne, a master of his craft, is still able to craft an engaging thriller that transports his fixations into the contemporary landscape. More importantly, Lyne knows that erotic thrillers are all in the name of fun. That tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment is most evident by the film ending with credits rolling over six-year-old Gracie Jenkins lip-synching to Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”
“Deep Water” Trailer