Adrian Lyne’s “Deep Water” puts the “psycho” in “psychological thriller.”
For his first feature film in 20 years, Lyne returns to the familiar waters of the erotic drama, adapting a tawdry Patricia Highsmith 1950s novel that would have felt at home in the cinematic hands of Douglas Sirk. Yet, for the sake of moral complicity, Lyne injects an amorality that takes the steam out of this steamy potboiler.
Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas) are tethered to an unhappy marriage. Melinda does not much care for Vic or motherhood, and she spends most of her time cavorting around town, bouncing from one affair to another. Their odd arrangement “permits” Melinda to enjoy an open relationship, but she does so in full view of both Vic and the couple’s circle of friends. Meanwhile, Vic regularly proclaims his love for Melinda and their daughter, Trixie (Grace Jenkins), but he lives a perpetual slow burn, finding ways to sabotage Melinda’s many dalliances.
Already suspected by some of killing one of Melinda’s former lovers, Vic’s patience runs out once Melinda begins bedding her beaus in their home and parading them in front of friends. They include Melinda’s new piano teacher (Jacob Elordi), who soon drowns under mysterious circumstances, and an old friend (Finn Wittrock) who soon disappears. Melinda and a novelist friend (Tracy Letts) suspect Vic of murder, yet Melinda’s initial horror and indignation soon morph into rekindled affection.
There is not a likable character in the film, including Melinda, whose fate is sharply altered from Highsmith’s novel. That includes Vic and Melinda’s pals, a delusional lot who continue to invite the couple to endless parties and visit their home even in the face of Melinda’s carousing, plus Vic’s dour deposition and seedy suspicions. We learn that Vic earns his wealth producing microchips for aerial drones and his hobby is raising snails as pets, but both of these tidbits go undeveloped and are dangled for no discernible purpose.
Lyne’s former forays into hypersexual fare have met with much deserved success, including “Fatal Attraction,” “9½ Weeks,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” and his underrated adaptation of “Lolita.” “Deep Water,” on the other hand, thrashes about in search of narrative meaning but just ends up feeling all wet.
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