The Deep End isn’t bad, and it gets extra points for being independently produced, but I can’t recommend it.
R for violence, sex
Margaret (Tilda Swinton) is trying to hold together her family. Her husband is away at sea, leaving her to shuttle her kids to ballet and baseball. Luckily her oldest son Beau has a license and a car and can take care of himself.
Well, almost. It looks like Beau (Jonathan Tucker), at 17, is gay. Having a gay son wouldn’t be a problem if that were the whole story. But Beau has been to a gay nightclub in nearby Reno, and he has developed a relationship with a 30-year old man. Between school and practice Margaret drives to Reno to ask Darby (Josh Lucas) to stop seeing her son.
Margaret’s stressful life is enough to have nervous audiences picking at their fingernails. But the real tension starts when she discovers the body.
The Less Said The Better
Tilda Swinton is a great choice for Margaret. Her lean face and ropy muscles make her look as though she could run a marathon, and the implication is that Margaret needs that much endurance and will, just to keep up with her daily responsibilities.
Also, Swinton has the nervous intensity to fill this role. One scene in particular lets her prove herself the star. She discovers Darby’s body, and for about five minutes of screen time, not a word is spoken. The camera stays on Swinton, demanding that she carry the film with her gestures and expressions. It’s a great scene, thanks to her.
It may be great because when there is dialogue, it is sometimes too obvious, particularly as it relates to grandpa. Jack (Peter Donat) lives with Margaret and the kids. Rather than helping her, he is an additional burden. One more mouth to feed, one more demand on her time. His lines are written to make him sound suspicious of everything. This is a blatant attempt to heighten the tension of the movie, which comes at the cost of solid character development. It’s a compromise that adds to the film’s amateur feeling.
That Sinking Feeling
The screenplay has other problems as well. The film’s conflict turns on a blackmail plot but doesn’t look at it from a new angle. The script introduces some plausible reasons not to involve the authorities, and the bad guys feel about right for Reno, Nevada. But real conflict in a serious drama need not involve cash. When people do things for reasons other than money, it makes for more interesting movies.
The cinematography is usually good, but occasionally distracting. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (who won the best cinematography award at Sundance) seems infatuated with his camera. For example, there is a shot of a trash can looming in the foreground while the actor walks up from behind. The cans make a huge impact, and it’s a neat shot. But the cans have nothing to do with the character or the story. It serves no purpose within the film and it probably should have been cut.
Finally, when the film fades to black, it leaves the story unresolved. It ends, but the loose ends aren’t tied up. Neither are the heroes doomed in a tragic but strong ending. The film just stops at a certain emotional jumping-off point.
So all in all, The Deep End is a disappointment. Knowing that it’s an independent film makes it a little more impressive, but it doesn’t make it good.