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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Nice! I've been crazy looking forward to thisReplyDelete
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.ReplyDelete
Thanks! Patrick needs to remind me where Fuck Noir came from. I got it from him. He got it from…somewhere?Delete
I will be stealing the phrase “fuck noir” because it’s too good not to.ReplyDelete
The movie is less than 2h. How is that possible?ReplyDelete