Deep Water is a movie whose shortcomings you find yourself justifying because the erotic thriller is such a dead genre that it’s fun to see it revived. Back in the 1990s, it was commonplace to see films of this breed sandwiched between a Pauly Shore comedy and a popcorn blockbuster at your local multiplex. Reevaluated gender politics and the advent of HBO have basically forced these flicks into extinction. No less, it’s great to see 81-year-old Adrian Lyne, director of Fatal Attraction, the genre’s granddaddy, return after a two-decade long hiatus.
His first film since the Richard Gere/Diane Lane film Unfaithful in 2002, Lyne’s fifth feature in the erotic thriller space is based off Patricia Highsmith’s novel. Adapted by an unlikely pair of screenwriters in Zach Helm (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) and Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), Deep Water takes us into the opulent yet dysfunctional marriage of Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas). Vic struck riches early, inventing computer chip technology for drones, resulting in an early retirement and more money than he could ever spend. He devotes his time to publishing a magazine (albeit rarely), raising snails, and spying on his wife.
You see, Melinda likes to get drunk and have affairs with younger men, to the chagrin of Vic, who has still given her his blessing to do so. Early in the film, during a casual chat with Melinda’s latest beau, Joel (Brendan C. Miller), Vic informs the young buck that his wife’s former fling, who is now missing, was actually killed by him. Vic admits this in such a blasé fashion, you can’t tell if he’s kidding or being serious. Then the body count increases.
Meanwhile, Vic’s friends can’t figure out why he lets Melinda get away with her affairs so openly. It mystifies his close friend, Grant (Lil Rel Howery), but another mutual pal named Don (Tracy Letts) remains deeply suspicious, especially after Vic’s message to Joel spreads amongst their friend-group.
I couldn’t quite figure out why Vic is in such a marriage either. I know trying to understand the mental makeup of the uber-rich is a fruitless task, but why would a multimillionaire allow himself — in his (retired) prime — to shower his wife with endless gifts while condoning her adulterous ways? Vic doesn’t sleep around, save for maybe sharing a casual dance with Don’s wife, in one moment that’s so out of character, it’s talked about amongst their mutuals for quite sometime after, and upsets Melinda. It’d be one thing if Vic were desiring the cuckold lifestyle, but he doesn’t get off to Melinda’s escapades. He’s an angry, brooding shell of himself when he sees her freely fondling a young piano player at a pool party.
Affleck conveys his menace with poise, as we’ve come to expect. Some actors are at their best when they play emotionally opaque, quietly resentful individuals, and Affleck is top notch when he’s glum. He nor de Armas are the issue, although they surprisingly lack any marital chemistry despite having a real-life romance a couple years back. It’s the lack of a justification for Vic permitting Melinda’s affairs in the first place.
The film also grows repetitive once it sinks into its formula of Melinda cheating, Vic spying, Vic half-heartedly confronting Melinda, and then a murder occurring. There’s a lack of depth and any character development over the course of the film, and it ultimately ends with several things unresolved.
The sex scenes are mostly okay, but few and far between. This is lite-erotica at best. Only one moment between Affleck and de Armas crackles with any kind of sexual fire, and it’s over as quickly as it begins. It renders Deep Water a story without much distinction. The lavish lifestyle these two characters lead also hinders that dirty quality that made many of Lyne’s earlier efforts that much more sordid. All those grievances aside, I can’t say I was ever bored. Just left lukewarm, in shallow waters, so to speak.
NOTE: Deep Water is now streaming on Hulu.
OTHER REVIEWS OF ADRIAN LYNE FILMS:
My review of Fatal Attraction
My review of Flashdance
My review of Foxes
My review of Indecent Proposal
My review of Jacob’s Ladder
My review of Lolita (1997)
My review of Nine ½ Weeks
My review of Unfaithful
Starring: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Lil Rel Howery, Grace Jenkins, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi, Finn Wittrock, and Brendan C. Miller. Directed by: Adrian Lyne.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!