Wednesday, March 16, 2022


 by Rob DiCristino

In which my boy Ben gets some. Well, sort of. It’s complicated.

“There’s no fucking. Nobody’s fucking!” lamented auteur director Steven Soderbergh just a few months ago, in reference to the current glut of superhero-centered blockbuster cinema. And although the indies can always be relied upon to keep things provocative — I’m thinking Ducourneau’s Titane and even my beloved The Worst Person in the World — he’s mostly right. Mainstream Movies for Adults are in short supply, and the ones we get certainly aren’t anywhere near as steamy as the Fuck Noirs of yesteryear. It’s not just that they lack skin, of course — Though it is definitely also that. It’s that they rarely present their characters as capable of or interested in sexual expression of any kind. It’s not crass or leering to miss that, either: Sexuality drives so many human actions that excising that element severely limits the stories we can tell about ourselves. “I don’t know how to tell people how to behave in a world in which that is not a thing,” Soderbergh continued. Filmmaking is behavioral, after all, so why cut out one of our most fundamental behaviors?
Thank the maker for Adrian Lyne, one of our horniest living filmmakers. The director of ‘80s and ’90s thrillers like Indecent Proposal, 9 ½ Weeks, and Fatal Attraction returns this year with Deep Water, an erotic yarn loosely based on the 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. Ben Affleck and Ana De Armas star as Vic and Melinda Van Allen, a wealthy but unhappy couple whose unique “arrangement” allows Melinda to take her pick of young lovers — the likes of dopey hunk Joel Dash and sensitive pianist Charlie De Lisle — whom she openly, drunkenly flaunts at everything from social gatherings to family dinners. Best buddy Grant (the always welcome Lil Rel Howery) warns Vic that his wife’s behavior is costing him his reputation, but the retired tech wiz is unmoved, focusing mostly on his role as father to the precocious Trixie (Grace Jenkins). Our Vic’s hardly a spineless beta cuck soy boy, though: Rumors abound concerning the mysterious death of one of Melinda’s former lovers. Everyone suspects a jealous husband driven to madness. Everyone would be right.

From its opening beats, Deep Water feels like a film out of a bygone era (era), a rhythmic and pulsating cat and mouse game in which the rules are never quite clear and our sympathies are never quite aligned with one character or the other. Melinda is a vulgar mess, to be sure, and her open taunting of Vic — the man funding, excusing, and cleaning up after her extensive infidelities — seems beyond heartless. But Vic is steeping in a darkness of his own, furtively watching her dalliances from afar and getting a genuine thrill out of the passive threats he makes against her beaus. That mysterious death from before? Vic confesses to — hell, brags about — the murder to Joel in an early scene, leaving the floppy-haired dimwit to decide for himself if an affair with Melinda is worth his life. We soon realize that the Van Allens are playing a game — that Melinda’s promiscuity and Vic’s jealousy are like catnip to them both. When stuffy neighbor Lionel (Tracy Letts) starts snooping around, however, their sadistic chess match threatens to spin out of control.
There’s always a certain intrigue to watching an off-screen couple work together — Kidman and Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut being the ur-example — and Deep Water does not disappoint. Affleck and De Armas are absolutely electric together, with Ben’s measured stoicism feeding Ana’s flustered recklessness. It’s all she can do to provoke a reaction, making those few moments he lets loose feel like an avalanche of repressed rage. Lyne’s camera lingers voyeuristically, hiding in crevices and catching stray glances between characters who can’t seem to decide if they’re going to fuck or fight. While Highsmith’s novel made moralistic judgments about its characters and their relationships, Lyne’s touch is softer, more modern and ambiguous. His leads recognize each other’s imperfections — even confessing to them in the tantalizing scene that made up the entirety of Deep Water’s first trailer — and both nurse a kind of quiet elation in the face of their partner’s misdeeds. Melinda’s final beat, in particular, paints all that came before in a new light that will reward repeat viewings.
Though it features all the devious backstabbing and histrionic outbursts we’d expect from the genre — How often do you see a wife tell police officers that her husband is a murderer and then watch them drive home together? — Deep Water’s most notable merit might be its understated execution. There’s an excellent subtlety to Lyne’s technique here, a kind of lurid grace we’ve come to expect from one of cinema’s most practiced and stylish hands. Deep Water is slutty schlock, sure, but Lyne pivots away from cheap melodrama at every turn by focusing on the painful, unspoken obsessions that drive the Van Allens further and further beyond the pale. Neither of them is so far gone that we can’t relate to their confusion and preoccupation. We’ve all been jealous and insecure. We’ve all tried to assert dominance. We’ve all begged for absolution. And while there’s plenty to like about Marvel movies and prestige television dramas, we all deserve a genuinely sexy time every now and again, don’t we? Do Soderbergh a favor: Turn out the lights and let Affleck do his thing.

Deep Water hits Hulu this Friday.


  1. Nice! I've been crazy looking forward to this

  2. Dude...outstanding review. Lots of people started tweeting that they were seeing this starting last weekend but there's been far too little written bout it. I love your take and your openness to discuss the subject matter...bonus points for the phrase "Fuck Noirs" (which somehow my brain keeps reading as "Fuck Norris" and making me ponder how i missed all of Chuck Norris' steamy outings!) Thanks for sharing your take...cant wait to check this one out.

    1. Thanks! Patrick needs to remind me where Fuck Noir came from. I got it from him. He got it from…somewhere?

  3. I will be stealing the phrase “fuck noir” because it’s too good not to.

  4. The movie is less than 2h. How is that possible?