Deep Water and all the images you see in this review are owned by Hulu
Directed by Adrian Lyne
Movies may be returning to theaters, but the Pandemic has irrevocably muddied the waters between theatrical movies and straight to streaming. Pixar’s splitting the difference with one of their movies going to streaming while other is a theatrical exclusive, and all the major streaming services are sacrificing box office bucks in the hopes of roping in a few more views; Netflix being the most blatant as far as I’m concerned what with Knives Out 2 going straight to their service. It’s certainly been good for me as I’m already paying for these things so I might as well check out what’s on them, and one movie caught my eye this week. It’s a movie I never heard of until a few days before it was to come out, and yet it’s starring the former Batman and Agent Paloma from the last James Bond movie! How did something with such high-profile actors fly under my radar like this? Was Hulu hoping we won’t notice it as they sandwich it between Seth Macfarlane cartoons and whatever the heck Letter Kenny is, or is this just further evidence that I am out of touch and just barely managed to catch a great movie before it sailed right over my head? Let’s find out!!
Vic Van Allen and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck Ana de Armas) are an upper-class married couple who have an… interesting relationship. It’s unclear how much of this is formalized or agreed upon, but it’s clear that Melinda is having sex with other men and that Vic is aware of it. For the most part, he just stands there and plasters a smile on his face while she does her thing, but it’s clear that this is eating him up inside and he starts getting more and more aggressive in his “handling” of this situation. Melinda seemingly has no compunction about this and presumably doesn’t care much for Vic’s feelings, but then Vic is no peach either and his need for control only gets more desperate and more uncomfortable. Just how far will Vic go to hold tight on what he believes is rightfully his, and how will Melinda react to these cages he wishes to put up? Is there something underneath all this contempt that they have for each other, and is it somehow darker than the animosity with which they deal with their problems already? See, back in my day they would just go on Springer and get it all out in the open, but nope! Just gonna bottle it up until someone writes a really inappropriate rant on Facebook!
Do you ever get the sense that you’re too young for a movie? I mean it’s probably not a great sign of my maturity to be thinking that at my age, but there’s something about this that may point to an emotional weariness and strain that is just outside of my own experiences. That or it’s just a bunch of weirdos doing weird things, and I’m leaning towards the latter for a few reasons; namely, that movie is based on a book. There’s a disconnect between the actions s that characters are take throughout this story, and the overall aesthetic and tone of it that makes me think that something must have gotten lost in the adaptation process; almost like this was supposed to be a form of satire that went right over the filmmakers’ heads as they were making it. In its own way, it does make the movie compelling as this seemingly realistic and somewhat drab world is host to this story about a bunch of weirdos and their extremely unhealthy relationship, but the tradeoff is a movie that feels less like getting into the lives of compelling people and more like an absurd art piece viewed behind a very thick pane of glass.
Let’s start by taking things at face value and discuss what works about the movie. Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas certainly give compelling and nuanced performances as characters that we swiftly learn are pretty unlikable people. This is nothing new for Affleck who seems to be making it his life’s goal to play the most unlikable jerks imaginable while still being a leading man and that tension is palpable here. He’s not going the Nicolas Cage or even Christian Bale route of playing extreme characters in unorthodox roles; he’s just being an inauspicious and normal enough guy that just can’t seem to stay on the right side of charming which is the right tone for this kind of story. Armas on the other hand is completely out there and inscrutable, but that performance does a lot to bring out the darker side of Affleck’s character. The story itself is not nearly as compelling as the performances, but it does provide enough context for Affleck and Armas to bounce off of each other and for their behavior to escalate in juicy ways. In fact, that’s probably the best way to describe the parts of this movie that work. It’s not especially intense and I didn’t find it all that revealing when it comes to marriage and relationships, but it did have some spicy dialogue and sassy comebacks interspersed between its somewhat engaging mysteries.
Where the movie manages to set itself apart, to both its benefit and detriment, is how everything is just kind of askew from what you’d expect. Everyone’s just kind of weird and they don’t act in ways you’d expect them to which keeps things at least somewhat unpredictable but also makes it hard to relate to anyone or anything that’s going on. Of course, this is where my ignorance might be shining through because the way that Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas are written, as compelling as their performances are, it might as well be space aliens from the planet Incongruous because both seem to be in a game of one-upmanship that I couldn’t find the least bit comprehensible. I guess their actions are not completely inexplicable if you assume they are driven by nothing but hate and resentment (with a dash of self-loathing and fear thrown in), but even then it feels like a useless stalemate that would only end badly for all involved. I’m sure there are people who can relate to the utterly toxic back and forth interactions, but it’s such a bad situation that I can’t generate sympathy for them when they are intentionally choosing to stick with it. They’re not the only weirdos in the movie as pretty much everyone in their orbit has something going on (I was particularly fond of the egotistical writer who thought he was being a smooth investigator) and perhaps there is something to this movie about the way affluent people interact with each other, but it never truly comes together and ends up feeling like a half-hearted attempt at emulating David Lynch.
Beyond the weirdness, there are also some very plain and straightforward flaws with this. We’ve mentioned that the adaptation process is probably responsible for the tone being what it is, but I’d also wager that that is also why the pacing is so wonky. The movie likes to jump around a lot with quick cuts over huge time gaps, and yet it also stops for way too long on certain scenes; especially two separate parties that just kind of drag on and on. The movie is at its best when it’s straddling the line between goofy obliviousness and earnest tension, but that only works when the movie feels like it’s moving forward and too much of this is at either a slow burn or a standstill. On top of that, while Affleck and De Armas are the centerpieces of the movie, the supporting cast is rather disposable and in one instance I’d argue is miscast. Lil Rel Howery is a good actor and does bring some charm to the more drab aspects of the movie, but his jovial attitude feels out of place with everyone else feeling like emotionally fraught androids. The fact that he comes off as so human and likable makes it hard to imagine that he himself doesn’t see how weird everything is around him, yet he has to play the role he’s given and just ends up feeling like a particularly charming extra in the story. I’d also argue that the movie ends on a very unsatisfying note without any real resolution to anything, but considering how all over the place the movie was already it’s hardly surprising that they weren’t actually going anywhere.
My experience watching this movie was as strange as the movie itself. I was sitting there enjoying a lot of things that were happening, particularly every random shot of Affleck looking sad, but I just couldn’t get a bead on what this movie was actually about or where it was going. It was like dropping in at the halfway point of a gossip story; a lot of scandalous moments, but missing the necessary context for it to really mean anything. I can’t say that I don’t recommend it because the parts that shine are really fun and interesting to watch, but there’s a lot of space between those moments where you’re just wondering where this is going and if there’s anything interesting at the end of it. The answer for the most part is no, but the journey to get there has some unexpected sights to behold, and sometimes that’s enough to justify the trip. And hey, if I ever get around to reading the book, I know whose sad mug I’m gonna be picturing the entire time!