out of five
: 99 mins
Scott McGehee and David Siegel are the writers/directors/producers of The Deep End, which is only their second film after their 1993 independent hit Suture. As such, The Deep End may be flawed, but it still has enough going for it to make us hope that we won’t have to wait another eight years for their next film.
The Deep End is loosely based on Max Ophuls’ 1949 noir melodrama with Joan Bennett, which was itself based on Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s source novel The Blank Wall. In both films, a mother covers up for a murder she thinks her child has committed, with the most significant change being that in this version, the victim is her son’s gay lover.
Tilda Swinton plays Margaret Hall, a woman so fiercely protective of her son (Jonathan Tucker), that she never even thinks to ask him whether he actually killed the man or not.
Naturally, this being a melodrama, nothing goes according to plan and it isn’t long before she’s being blackmailed by an unfeasibly attractive lowlife (Goran Visnjic, from e.r.), who turns up bearing a videotape that rather graphically links her son to the victim.
The acting is excellent – Swinton gives a powerful performance that could quite easily see her pick up an Oscar nomination come February. Tucker is also good, and there are a few neat touches, such as Swinton’s increasing respect for how seemingly cool and detached her son is about the murder, not realising that he doesn’t actually know anything about it.
Visnjic, clearly a man not familiar with the Ugly Stick, is unfairly saddled with a part that requires him to be a ‘ruthless blackmailer with a conscience’, but he manages to create sympathy for the character and fans of e.r. will get a kick out of a subtle nod towards his TV character’s profession.
The film also features an impressive soundtrack and some gorgeous
photography, making strong use of its Lake Tahoe locations. It is not
without flaws, however – some of the plot developments may test your
suspension of disbelief a little far and there are occasional lapses into such dialogue-based clunkers as "Just get the son-of-a-bitch f**kin' money, you shit".
Similarly, despite the inclusion of an impressive and strangely erotic (almost) final shot, the ending is undeniably disappointing.
However, having said that, The Deep End still has a lot more on offer than the usual run-of-the-mill Hollywood trash. If you like your noir melodramas to be twistier than a plateful of spaghetti, then you could do worse than check this out. Recommended.