A heavy drama, The Deep End is just such a tale. When teenaged Beau (Jonathan Tucker) gets mixed up with a seedy, older man (he's secretly gay), their relationship gets a bit too intense and the lech ends up dead. Imagine her surprise when mom Margaret (Tilda Swinton) stumbles upon a corpse on her idyllic beach! Of course, she does what any mother of an aspiring musical virtuoso would do -- sinks the body in the lake, hides the guy's car, and pretends nothing has happened.
Before long, the body is discovered, and the film takes a turn toward a blackmail plot, courtesy of ER nice guy Goran Visnjic. Ultimately this is a film about desperate measures -- a test of how far maternal instinct can take a person. Too bad the execution of that concept isn't as assured.
It's a movie you never saw (and you were lucky), but Before and After went down this road (unmemorably, I should add) a few years ago, only there it was the father willing to cover up the crime. That was a movie with Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson, and even they couldn't pull this plot off, getting oh-so-serious with the moral dilemma and forgetting that there were people looking to the screen for entertainment.
The Deep End learns nothing from that lesson. Moving slowly and deliberately, the film finally comes to a boil after about 90 minutes, but I fear much of the audience will be lost by then. Instead of trying to surprise or dazzle us, the film plays coy, throwing one perplexing plot twist after another such that we are left with surprisingly little explanation for anything we've seen along the way.
It's all vaguely unsatisfying because it's just never believable. For starters, we don't believe that Margaret or her son would never be caught -- or even suspected -- for the crime. And when Margaret finally and tearfully tells us what really happened that night, we don't believe it then, either. The truth, as she tells it, doesn't even seem possible. Combined with the worst fake-trumpet-playing footage put to film, the whole affair just comes off as phony, a gimmick that might have worked on serialized radio in the 1930s but not on the big screen today (oddly enough, the film is based on an old serialized novel called The Blank Wall).
Fortunately, The Deep End is a lovely film to look at, well photographed and populated with universally interesting, nuanced, and surprisingly rich characters. (Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel's last film was Suture, way back in 1993.) That only takes you so far, of course; it's also worth noting that the sound design and film editing are amateurishly bad.
As its centerpiece, Swinton owns the film as she so often does, her very spare facial features a mask upon which every emotion under the sun is projected. Would that those emotions made a little more sense in the context of the plot.
Don't get up for us.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 17th October 2001
Box Office USA: $8.3M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: i5 Films
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 95 Rotten: 21
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
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