By George Bate
Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas team up in an old school erotic thriller that feels straight out of the early 1990s (for better and for worse). Deep Water sees director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, Unfaithful) return to the genre that made his name after a 20 year hiatus. The newest installment in this seemingly bygone sub-genre of thrillers follows a husband (Ben Affleck) who becomes increasingly suspicious when the lover of his wife (Ana de Armas) disappears.
Deep Water is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is boring. In many ways, this is the definition of a guilty pleasure movie. The performances are somewhat over the top, the dialogue is out there to say the least, the plot unfolds in characteristically maddening ways, and yet it still captures your attention. In large part, this is due to the level of tension and suspense Lyne weaves into his feature. From the very first frames of the film, there is an intangible sense of tension radiating from the fractured chemistry between our leads. Watching Ben Affleck’s character Vic is like watching a ticking time bomb as he (somehow) patiently observes his wife’s overt infidelity from afar. Ben Affleck magnificently evokes his Gone Girl performance, capturing an inner and quieted rage few actors can compete with. Ana de Armas, meanwhile, is a stark contrast to many of her previous performances as she plays the manipulative and maliciously nonchalant Melinda, wife to Ben Affleck’s character. It’s the kind of movie you can’t help but talk to your television screen while watching. “Why did he do that?” “Why doesn’t he leave her?” “Did he kill him?” And for that, its tension and immersion, amidst its shortcomings, Deep Water warrants a watch.
Deep Water progresses in intriguing and mysterious ways, but, ultimately, ends up flat and surprisingly tame. Writers Zach Helm and Sam Levinson keep the audience somewhat at a distance from our leads, making it frustratingly difficult to get into their minds and understand their motives. This is particularly evident with Ben Affleck’s character, whose decision-making and judgment we, the viewer, always seem to lack insight into. This may be a purposeful approach from the filmmakers to add a sense of mystery to the film, but, eventually, it grows tiresome and leaves you wishing for more introspection and deeper character work.
Indeed, Deep Water is a film that is crying out for a psychological complexity of its characters, an intelligence to its narrative, and a rawness to its erotic thriller material, all of which it unfortunately lacks. Absent are the wild twists-and-turns one would expect from a thriller like this, showcasing a missed opportunity from the filmmakers to really have fun with this lost genre of cinema. The premise of two of Hollywood’s biggest stars in Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas teaming up for a Basic Instinct or Fatal Attraction-type film post “Me Too” and in the year 2022 offers endless possibilities. And, yet, the film capitalizes on few of these possibilities. Deep Water would have benefitted from a more heightened, out-there progression of events, coupled with more unhinged performances, and some level of social commentary or complexity. Instead, Deep Water is a little shallow.
Finally, it would be a travesty to review Deep Water and not acknowledge the terrific Grace Jenkins, who plays Vic and Melinda’s daughter Trixie. She is a scene stealer from start to finish and adds much needed levity to the film.
Deep Water represents an installment in the lost erotic thriller genre of cinema that is neither clever, complex, wild, nor introspective, yet, nonetheless, never ceases to entertain. Anchored by impressive turns by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, Adrian Lyne’s return to the director’s seat may be tame relative to some of his previous efforts, but excels as a simple, guilty pleasure thriller. One can ponder about what Deep Water could have been given the potential at its disposal, although, ultimately, this film is better experienced by sitting back and not thinking too deeply about it,
Images courtesy of Hulu