The Deep End January 20, 2017
A mother will go to great lengths to protect her children from the atrocities of the world, and 2001’s The Deep End compellingly explores that societal recurrence with Hitchcockian flair. The film, aloof and noirish, stars a deglamorized Tilda Swinton as Margaret Hall, an acutely average housewife turned woman in trouble after she discovers that her eighteen-year-old son, Beau (Jonathan Tucker), is having an affair with sleazy nightclub owner Darby Reese (Josh Lucas). Already afraid that her husband, always at work, won’t accept Beau for who he really is, she insinuates herself into the situation (the film’s opening finds her nervously approaching Darby’s cobalt cool gay club) and demands that the two stop seeing each other.
But alas a mother cannot always put an end to what her child thinks is true love, and the very night of her attempting to tell him off is Darby meeting Beau at the family’s boathouse for sex. Things come to blows, though, when Darby suggests Beau try to discreetly get money from under the noses of his parents. But like most arguments that get a little too passionate in the movies, Darby happens to take one wrong step on the property’s dock and falls smack dab onto the jagged point of an anchor lurking beneath the surface of the waves. Killed instantaneously, Beau fails to mention the accident and leaves the body in its same position for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Margaret, stumbling upon Darby’s remains on the shore, assumes that Beau must have killed his immortal suitor in some sort of twisted self-defense. Both not wanting the potential laden kid to spend the rest of his life in jail and not wanting anyone to find out about his homosexuality, she takes matters into her own hands, tying the body to the anchor and dropping it off in the middle of Lake Tahoe. The conflict is complicated, however, by the sudden appearance of a man (Goran Višnjić) who claims to have a Darby and Beau starring sex tape. To ward him off, $50,000 must be paid within a few days — or else.
And a deceptively simple setup that is. But The Deep End is a neo noir just effectively sincere enough to rise sympathy out of us when things could have merely taken on the shape of convincingly structured homage. An adaptation of Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall (1947), a novel additionally brought to the silver screen by Max Ophüls’s praised The Reckless Moment (1949), The Deep End is an engaging cinematic examination of a mother’s love and how far that said love can go before ever present danger starts to make its way onto the scene.
The Deep End has the makings of a hackneyed woman in trouble feature, but Swinton and Višnjić, along with thoughtful writing/directing team Scott McGehee and David Siegel, inspire compassion that makes the film’s thrills come second to its many shades of desperation. Swinton is wonderful as an ordinary woman forced to be extraordinary to preserve what’s left of her son’s virtue, even if that forced extraordinariness makes her skirt the edges of morality a few too many times. Višnjić subverts two-dimensional villainy and ultimately touches as an essentially good man in a bad business who begins to empathize with the forlorn situation of his would-be victims. And with McGehee and Siegel’s commiserative screenplay and appropriately slithering direction supporting their actors, never does the film bear tone undermining false notes — it’s emotional without saccharinity, its tension as intact as our feeling for characters trapped in a seemingly ineludible labyrinth of intrigue.
Everything about The Deep End is just right, except for an ending that unavoidably succumbs to the melodramatic pretense so much of the movie impressively avoids. But a conclusion of deep fried triteness cannot upstage all that stands behind it — the film is a terse balancing act tightly made urgent by its smartly placed injections of pathos. B+