Deep Water movie review: Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas shine in Adrian Lyne’s comeback thriller about toxic marriage
An Adrian Lyne adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith crime novel, starring ex-lovers Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas sounds like a winning combination from the start. Lyne is best-known for his erotic films to which he brings a degree of solemnity and psychological insight usually not found in the genre. This is his first film in 20 years. (Also read: Gone Girl review: Dark and disturbing, this is one thriller you shouldn't miss)
Highsmith, the queen of the psychological thriller novel, makes her writing crackle with her deep understanding of the sociopathic mind and her knack for spinning a twisty yarn.
Ana de Armas is currently one of our most gorgeous movie stars, due to appear later this year as Marilyn Monroe in the Andrew Dominik-directed biopic Blonde. Forty-nine-year-old Ben Affleck has aged like fine wine, with back-to-back stellar performances in The Way Back, The Last Duel and Tender Bar, still looking impressively buff ever since he gained muscle mass for the Batman movies.
As a fan of Lyne and Highsmith and having liked what Affleck and Armas brought to the table, I was quite stoked for Deep Water. The 115-minute thriller, which begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video from March 18, moves at a breakneck speed, has superb performances, and always kept me guessing where it was heading because Lyne and his writers Zach Helm and Sam Levinson do make some significant changes to the source material, which make Deep Water share some beats with Affleck’s previous marriage-gone-wrong movie Gone Girl (2014), but I don’t mind that.
Affleck and Armas play the affluent Van Allens. Victor (Affleck) and Melinda (Armas) are stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage, or perhaps, there’s love but since it doesn’t rise to the surface as easily as it did before, Victor and Melinda torture each other psychologically to get a rise out of one another.
Melinda maintains and flaunts a steady stream of lovers, all handsome a bit dumb, unlike Victor, who enjoys a reputation for being a mature, refined and formidable man in their local community by appearing to tolerate his wife’s indiscretions. Naturally, the neighbours sympathise with Victor more than Melinda. While she spends her days and evenings in the company of her many young lovers, the much older Victor spends his time furiously cycling, maintaining a farm of snails, and doting over their little daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins), who is much closer to her dad than her mom.
But Victor has a dark side to him. It appears that Victor enjoys tormenting Melinda by withholding affection and appearing unaffected by her little affairs. Melinda, on the other hand, is sad, that her husband has lost all passion for her, and so she seeks romance from a younger man who makes her enjoy herself. Melinda thinks that despite her sexiness, she is not smart enough for her intellectual husband. Victor wields this angst as a weapon against her.
Things slowly unravel once Melinda’s lovers start to die. Is Victor killing them? The audience knows the answer but Melinda’s accusations about her murderous husband appear hysterical to the community. The only person who believes Melinda is their neighbour Don (Tracy Letts), a pulp fiction writer, who is more than eager to discover a serial killer in his backyard.
One of the major changes from the source material that I liked was that Lyne, Helm and Levinson make Victor and Melinda more likable than they are in the book. Both come off as absolutely reprehensible in Highsmith’s novel; Victor as the quiet, scheming husband, Melinda as a thoughtless waste of a woman. Furthermore, Victor is sexually mismatched with Melinda in the book.
In the movie, Victor and Melinda share an obvious affection for each other, which is revealed in small moments early in the film and in a couple of scenes that suggest that Victor and Melinda are the best fit for each other, much like the couple from hell in Gone Girl.
Lyne and his writers update the material with some cosmetic touches. Victor is no longer a trust fund baby with a niche publishing house. He now designs military drones, which, combined with Affleck’s physical frame, makes him more imposing and intimidating than he is in the novel. Lyne and his writers also throw away the novel’s moralistic ending and opt for a, I would say, more romantic and perhaps more believable conclusion to this rather bewildering story.
Why Disney chose to pull Deep Water out of their theatrical release schedule and drop it on an online platform is a mystery, given the star power of the movie and its pulpy thrills that would attract the Gone Girl crowd. Deep Water is a leaner film and doesn’t really dig into the couple’s psychological makeup as deeply as we saw it done in Gone Girl. This, perhaps, suits Deep Water, or it would become more of the same. Why Victor is how he is is a good question. He is a cypher, as is Melinda. Affleck and Armas are absolutely perfect in these roles, and their hot and cold chemistry is the star of this nasty little thriller from the master Adrian Lyne.