Deep Water, 2022.
Directed by Adrian Lyne.
Starring Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Rachel Blanchard, Dash Mihok, Lil Rel Howery, Jacob Elordi, Finn Wittrock, Kristen Connolly, Jade Fernandez, Damon Lipari, Michael Braun, Brendan Miller, Jaren Mitchell, Devyn A. Tyler, Jeff Pope, Paul Teal, and Michael Scialabba.
A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs in order to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers.
Director Adrian Lyne essentially coming out of retirement (his last feature was 20 years ago) to adapt a Patricia Highsmith novel sounds like a match made in the lust circle of hell. Individually, they are responsible for some of the most renowned erotic thriller works for their respective mediums, whether it be Lyne’s Fatal Attraction or Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (which was also brilliantly adapted starring Matt Damon in what is arguably still the best performance of his career), so even with an extended hiatus following a lackluster outing, there is plenty reason to be excited and feel that Deep Water could be the thrust in the ass that a largely sexless Hollywood cinematic landscape needs.
Somehow, it is somewhat of a disappointment in the sexual sizzle department, but there’s more than enough nefariously manipulative psychology going on in the minds of both of its immensely unlikable leads to remain invested. It’s also hard to place the blame on stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas (who ended up becoming a real-life couple for a brief stint) given that the script from Zach Helm and Euphoria‘s Sam Levinson is at least 70% notes on how they should stare at one another with jealousy and inner pain. However, the sociopathic and narcissistic energy radiating from their characters offset this. I spent most of Deep Water hoping each one of them would fuck other characters to piss each other off more and that at some point, the child they mostly neglect and leave to a babysitter would get taken away.
Ben Affleck is tech genius Vic Van Allen, who also specializes in photography and an assortment of hobbies that are usually useful for stalking his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas). At first glance, Vic appears to be a chill husband that is comfortable with Melinda casually making out with other guy friends. He seems to allow her to have some level of polyamorous freedom, although it’s more because he has lost his passion for the marriage and only wants to stay together for their daughter. Even Vic’s friend (Lil Rel Howery) initially seems to be the troublemaker, encouraging him to reel Melinda in on behalf of her lustful behavior.
Underneath that, Vic is a low-key psychopath that opportunistically chooses his moments to strike fear in Melinda’s friends by claiming to have murdered someone she was seeing when they were together. It doesn’t matter whether people believe him or not; it’s enough to make them cut contact with Melinda entirely and sometimes even flee the rural town. Sometimes this jealousy and unhinged behavior pull them back together for some short-lived intimacy, but for the most part, Melinda goes out and finds another guy to befriend. As such, it’s like watching a twisted game of love/hate where the genuine fascination simply comes from how these characters/performers react to one another. At times, it feels like something Melinda enjoys not necessarily because it’s healthy, but because it’s the only way Vic shows some passion about being together. To their credit, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas do have magnetizing toxic chemistry with one another.
Considering the revolving door situation of supporting characters, Deep Water consistently introduces new and familiar faces, typically with the unique skill set to quickly administer some personality before being kicked right back out of the narrative. Sometimes this can have a negative effect in that plenty of events are barreled right over and moved on from so that Vic and Melinda can get back to toying and trying to outsmart one another. However, the story remains grounded in the highly discomforting psyche of its central couple.
Melinda is not a saint and makes some troubling decisions, but what’s genuinely terrifying here is Vic’s public mask presenting himself to his friends as someone that encourages his wife to have romantic and sexual freedom, when he secretly has a disturbing amount of control issues. Wrapped up in all of this is a mystery novelist friend (Tracy Letts), who suspects that Vic is a dangerous person. And there is a sense of dangerous unpredictability within Ben Affleck’s performance as if he could violently snap at any moment. Even as Deep Water shifts further into mystery territory itself, the narrative remains tethered to realism, by extension, keeping us on edge throughout. There’s always a curiosity of how any of what transpires will change the dynamic of their marriage or if it will at all.
Deep Water is a solid comeback for Adrian Lyne, even if the sexual energy it requires does feel slightly restrained, and the plot keeps moving forward beyond new developments as soon as they are brought up. It does at least build to a scorcher of an ending, culminating in a breathtaking chase sequence. Success mostly hangs on Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas believably psychologically going to war with one another, which they do with numerous stares and heated body language.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com