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
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.