It’s a deception – the open marriage, the casual shrug when one of the partners takes advantage of the other’s indifference, and the title itself.
Deep Water is the latest movie that threatens to get to the bottom of infidelity but instead paddles in the shallows. Ana De Armas and Ben Affleck play the unhappily married Melinda and Vic. Melinda is so bored of Vic that she has taken to flaunting her conquests. Vic, seemingly invested in the notion of of free choice for consenting adults, accepts the sympathy of his friends but does nothing to stop Melinda.
Of course, Vic cares, a lot. When one of Melinda’s lovers drowns, her finger points straight at Vic. A nosy novelist neighbour (Tracy Letts) who is unnerved by Vic’s stoicism concurs with Melinda but is hard-pressed to turn up the evidence that will lead to Vic’s prosecution.
Why doesn’t Melinda divorce Vic? The answer lies not in the film but its source material. Deep Water has been adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. Highsmith pitilessly explores the numerous layers of a co-dependent relationship and lays bare the masochistic misery that keep Vic and Melinda together.
The screen version, which is out on Amazon Prime Video, bears the stamp of its director. Adrian Lyne, making a comeback after 20 years, has directed a series of erotic dramas revolving around the sexual games played by beautiful people.
Deep Water’s screenplay, by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson, suggests that Melinda’s adultery enlivens the marriage and improves her sexual encounters with Vic. The half-done characters and half-baked scenes barely begin to capture the toxicity of the marriage. Instead, the film counts down to Vic’s transformation from emasculated husband to possible psychopath.
The overarching blandness is best captured by Ben Affleck’s monotonal performance. Ana De Armas is reduced to playing a highly sexualised woman with an accent that suggests that her passion is decidedly un-American.
The most delightful cast member is Grace Jenkins as Trixie, the couple’s six-year-old daughter. Trixie is a preternaturally wise child who gangs up with her father against her mother and can easily see through his facade. Jenkins’s ease before the camera gets its own special sequence in the end credits – one of the film’s most genuinely artifice-free and affecting moments.