Movie Review ~ Deep Water

The Facts:

Synopsis: A well-to-do husband who allows his wife to have affairs to avoid a divorce becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of her lovers.
Stars: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Dash Mihok, Lil Rel Howery, Jacob Elordi, Finn Wittrock, Kristen Connolly, Rachel Blanchard
Director: Adrian Lyne
Rated: R
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: The gossip-grabbing headlines that have followed Deep Water from its filming during the later months of 2019 through its numerous release delays have been the stuff that set the tongues wagging of both viewers and critics alike.  Audiences with their home screens set to Page Six are keen to know if the relationship between the stars of the film, Ben Affleck (The Last Duel) and Ana de Armas (Knives Out), equated to erotic chemistry in this adaptation of a 1957 Patricia Highsmith novel.  On the flip side, critics were increasingly desperate to watch the return of director Adrian Lyne after what would turn out to be a twenty-year gap between films.  When the film was announced to debut on Hulu in March of 2022, Affleck was back with Jennifer Lopez, and de Armas is doing just fine on the cusp of A-list stardom.  On the other hand, Deep Water should have been submerged at the bottom of a shallow creek.

I actually went into Lyne’s first film since 2002’s Unfaithful with hope all the early lousy buzz was wrong, the result of too many eager beavers ready to tear the movie to shreds.  We’ve certainly had those films before.  Unfortunately, this is not one of those cases.  Highsmith’s novel is about a husband and wife in a loveless marriage stained with adultery who use the men the wife sleeps with as pawns in their psychological torment of one another.  When one of these games goes too far, it creates a fissure in their routine that changes the rules they’ve seemingly agreed to and ups the ante for unpredictable danger.  While Highsmith’s novel isn’t as overt as the screenplay from Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (Malcolm & Marie), its framework would have made for a sophisticated (and, sure, sexy) adult drama that Lyne could have molded to his style.  It’s absolutely in line with the films he has overseen before, like 9 ½ Weeks, Indecent Proposal, and Fatal Attraction

So why is Deep Water so shallow and dull?  Perhaps it’s because there’s no chemistry between the leads, a strange occurrence for the actors who found romance offscreen.  You don’t once buy for a second that de Armas would choose the lean and lanky boys she flounces around with over Affleck’s more mature and handsome frame.  Even if she’s trying to provoke him into what eventually happens, the character de Armas is playing is supposedly repulsed by the thought of being with her husband. It just doesn’t come across as believable.  In that same vein, Affleck is tasked with having to act like he’s above all of the flirting de Armas does in front of him and his friends (more on that later), but the most addled he gets is contorting his face as if he has a piece of rice stuck in a back molar. 

More than anything, Deep Water has no erotic edge to it.  Lush lust might have saved the film from its rather bland exchanges between husband and wife, and let’s face it, some of Lyne’s previous films were significantly assisted by the suggestive content.  Instead, we get several large dinner parties where the most exciting thing that occurs is de Armas playing the piano badly at one and de Armas asking her newest boy toy (Jacob Elordi) to tinkle the ivories at another.  At that particular party, when he starts playing, you would have thought Amadeus himself was playing Elvis Presley the way the guests begin to jive to the melody.  Also, Lyne films each of these gatherings so gauzy and dimly lit that I swear it felt like it would erupt into a key party at any moment. All of their friends seemed a little…too friendly.

If I told you there was a murder mystery at the core of Deep Water, would it excite you any more to see it?  It shouldn’t because it’s barely part of the plot, though previews might make you think otherwise.  No, most of the movie is focused on Affleck looking jealous of de Armas and de Armas apparently hating her life with Affleck and their young daughter.  It’s hard to feel much sympathy with anyone involved; even the people that are intended to be helpful are pretty abysmal.  Lyne also includes one of the most bizarre scenes to show over a closing credit in some time.  It’s almost entirely a miss, recommended only for the curious that don’t mind giving away two hours of their time to have nothing to show for it.

Movie Review ~ The Last Mountain (2021)

The Facts:

Synopsis: The unforgettable story of the 30-year-old climber Tom Ballard who disappeared on the so-called killer mountain, Nanga Parbat, in 2019.
Stars: Tom Ballard, Kate Ballard, Karim Hayat, Alex Txikon, Stefania Pedreriva
Director: Chris Terrill
Rated: R
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Through Oscar season and now during writing for the SXSW Film Festival, I go through many documentaries. The subjects can be anywhere from the immigrants of the war in Sudan to the costume design of a Polish opera, all the way to meeting a man who makes specialty guitars. They tend to be my favorite films to discover each year, and I’m constantly amazed at how filmmakers can stitch together narratives using footage they discover as well as film they shoot. For me, the best kind of documentaries have found that balance while also knowing what story they are most focused on, remaining unwavering in their goal. 

There’s a sense early on in Chris Terrill’s The Last Mountain that he’s heading in the right direction by concentrating on the life and legacy of Tom Ballard as well as his sister’s journey to visit not only where he perished, but where their mother died nearly twenty-four years earlier. The history of tragedy in this family of mountain climbers is fascinating, as are the dynamics existing between the father and daughter that remain. Terrill has been with this family for years, first gaining access through the initial success of Alison Hargreaves then witnessing the impact of her loss while coming down from a mountain in Pakistan.

When her son, Tom, became a well-regarded climber himself, home movies show that he felt the shadow of his mother’s legacy and her death hang over him early on. Perhaps that’s why he was drawn in 2019 to the same mountain range where she died, eventually succumbing to the same fate. Facing the need for resolution and closure she never got for her mother or brother, sister Kate decides to return to the mountain and say goodbye to the family she lost. Retracing a journey she made as a child, also documented by Terrill, Kate reconnects with a local man that served as a nanny of sorts to her and began the pilgrimage to begin true healing.

Had Terrill stopped with this story, he’d have had an Oscar-worthy (maybe winning) short documentary that radiates emotion and tells a rich narrative of one family deeply impacted by a specific drive to achieve. The trouble is that this is only half of The Last Mountain and the other half of the movie that Terrill cuts back and forth from tells more about the events that lead to Tom’s death and the man he was with when he died. Suggesting his climbing partner was perhaps more inspired by fame and notoriety than Tom feels like punching low and not in the same spirit as the rest of the movie, giving an awkward tone to the proceedings. Nearly every time Terrill returns to Kate, I felt my emotions rise in response to the sadness of a sister and daughter trekking across the globe to the final resting place of her brother and mother. Anytime we switched back, all the air went out of my sails.

Using the Ballard/Hargreaves home movies and incredible video captured of the mountains Tom and his mother both ascended, The Last Mountain would be best viewed in a theater or on the largest screen in your house. It’s worth it mainly for the scenes documenting the family that was and never will be again, frozen in time on video while two bodies rest forever on a mountain range in Pakistan.