Director Adrian Lyne, the filmmaker behind some of cinema’s most compelling erotic thrillers, hasn’t stepped behind the camera in two decades.
The mastermind of Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and Lolita last put out a new movie in 2002 with Unfaithful, a sexy Diane Lane and Richard Gere film that quadrupled its budget in box office revenue.
With plenty of time to craft his next project, a pair of beautiful stars in the leads and a script based on a story written by the author behind Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, there shouldn’t have been any reason why Lyne couldn’t execute his vision for a steamy psychological ride that would leave audiences on the edge of their seats for hours.
That’s perhaps why it’s so disappointing that Deep Water, the latest Hulu original film to hit the streaming service, doesn’t quite maintain its spark in a disjointed feature with lofty highs and lackluster lows.
Lyne’s film follows Vic Van Allen, a husband teetering on the edge of divorce who allows his wife Melinda to carry on several affairs, although each man who enters the picture mysteriously disappears along the way with Vic as the prime suspect.
Ben Affleck continues a strong run of character driven performances in recent years as Vic, often brooding through his home with a distant stare that belies unspoken intensity underneath.
When the situation calls for it, especially in conversations between Vic and other men, Affleck is cerebral and direct in his affectation, driving his point home with a callously calm intimidation to leave viewers guessing.
Ana de Armas counters Affleck’s more subdued control with a sensual free-spirited approach to Melinda. The chemistry between the two is chaotic and electric. Neither performer fully trusts the other, nor really understands the psychology of their partner and their unease provides the perfect recipe to foster audience suspicion on both their parts.
Well into the R-rated category essential for successful erotic thrillers, Lyne makes sure his film oozes sexuality through regular, but not gratuitous nudity and intensely intimate moments that further the complexity of Vic and Melinda’s relationship.
The supporting cast is often treated as disposable as Melinda’s erstwhile lovers, but Grace Jenkins often steals scenes as the Van Allen’s adorable daughter Trixie and Tracy Letts provides much needed gravitas as a friend with concerns about Vic’s motives.
Though it’s largely a well-shot and well-crafted movie, Deep Water is vastly disappointing at times with its cinematography when Vic and Melinda are driving around town. The shots are hastily put together and the use of green screen technology to layer in the background is shoddy and distracting, especially when looking through the rear window.
So often, moody moments where composer Marco Beltrani’s score helps paint a picture of a marriage in disarray is paired with deafening silence in the attitudes and faces of Affleck and de Armas, only to have the whole scene ruined by obtrusive lights that feel completely out of place.
Lyne does a terrific job however framing the audience geographically in each of the film’s locations from the outset. He smartly establishes the sizeable emotional gap in Vic and Melinda’s marriage through an early shot of a stairwell in the couple’s Louisiana home. Melinda disappears up a flight of stairs to the right after glaring wistfully at her husband only to have Vic venture up the adjacent stairs to the left, the separation between them clear from simple blocking.
The biggest flaw of Deep Water likely is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as the film was slated to be released in theaters nearly two years ago. It seems the delays caused the filmmakers to overanalyze their screenplay, trimming nearly a half-hour out of the running time.
What happens in the final cut, unfortunately, is a rushed ending with several unfulfilled or short-changed storylines as if the majority of the third act was abruptly removed. This does help maintain the focus on Vic and Melinda, although much of the larger world-building Lyne establishes in the first 45 minutes becomes wasted as a result.
Deep Water would have been a major disappointment in a theatrical setting, where its subpar cinematography and disjointed screenplay would prove fatal. But in a more casual streaming setting, it’s exactly the kind of tawdry erotic thriller that could charm ardent cinephiles for a couple of hours on date night.