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It has been twenty years since Unfaithful, the last film directed by Adrian Lyne, who went from directing television commercials in the 1970s to making feature films about sexually charged characters in the next decade. Best known for directing 9½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction, Lyne certainly redefined the mainstream concept of the erotic thriller, though his 1990 psychological horror Jacob’s Ladder remains his best work, which ended up inspiring the Silent Hill video game series. A twenty-year break from directing can be a long time and whenever a known director (like George Lucas) returns to making a movie, the results can be divisive, so was the return of Adrian Lyne worth it?
Based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, who wrote the Ripley series, which are all about mind games, Deep Water replays that idea through the lens of a toxic marriage. Co-adapted by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, who update the story to modern day, the story is about Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas), whose loveless marriage is held together only by a precarious arrangement whereby, in order to avoid the messiness of divorce, Melinda is allowed to take any number of lovers as long as she does not desert her family.
From reading the above paragraph, you can see why Lyne would be attracted to Deep Water and even though there is a level of eroticism from its two leads and other romantic entanglements, the film doesn’t feel as gratuitous as it could have been if adapted in the 80s. Along with the central marriage, which is initially feels cold, the script also seems interested in the social lives of the Van Allens, who interact with their friendly neighbors in the small town of Little Wesley, Louisiana. Their friends are well-aware of Melinda’s numerous flings and do question why Vic seems to accept it, leading to suggestions that Vic may have killed one of her previous lovers, as suspected by Tracy Letts’ Don Wilson.
While I think this is a more complicated step-up than Lyne’s last movie, which was a simple affair that led to murder, it’s fair to say that the English director isn’t breaking any new ground with the erotic thriller genre, though Deep Water does get heightened when murder does happen. Things get even more ludicrous during the climactic chase between car and bicycle that is more laughable than intense. What really saves the film is its two central performances.
Although there is an element of the “Sad Affleck” meme in his performance, Ben’s turn as Vic Van Allen is not far off from his work in Gone Girl, which was also about mind games within a troubled marriage. However, this performance is more vulnerable with a touch of weirdness and not one that expresses emotion. Even when he’s threatening any of the young lovers, his coldness is what makes him terrifying. Despite this there are moments of warmth he has towards his on-screen daughter, played by little scene-stealer Grace Jenkins. As opposed to the subdued mood of his co-star, Ana de Armas who is all about showing the dramatic side as she dominates the room to gain everyone’s attention. When it comes to sexual tension, she is the dominant one and given how glamorous she always looks, it’s hard not to fall for her charms.
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