There’s strange energy surrounding the return of Adrian Lyne. It’s been twenty years since his last erotic thriller, a touchy little number titled Unfaithful that features attractive people being…well, unfaithful. He’s returned with a film that he shot nearly three years ago, a sexy but muddled little thriller that I’ve been referring to this as the “Ben Affleck getting cucked movie” for quite some time. The release has been handled poorly, to say the least, but the film finally dropped on Hulu on March 18th and I finally got to take a look at it.
This thing’s a blast.
Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) rides his bike a lot. It’s his way of avoiding a lot of unpleasant things in his life. See, Vic has retired already and is growing bored. His computer chip sold to the military for a pretty penny, allowing him to create a wonderful life for himself and his wife in a community full of rich people with nothing to do beyond party in the evenings and sleep off hangovers during the day. His wife is also bored, but instead of being bored with their lives, she’s merely bored of him. Melinda (Ana de Armas) flaunts her string of lovers in Vic’s face as he quietly remains connected to their daughter, Trixie (Grace Jenkins). Unfortunately, one of Melinda’s lovers vanished a few weeks back and Vic is starting to get aggressive with each subsequent man she brings over. He tries to ride his bike, tries to flirt with a neighbor’s wife (Cabin in the Woods fans will recognize lead actress Kristen Connelly in a thankless but well-acted role here), and he raises snails in his shed as pets. When another of Melinda’s lovers dies, Vic becomes an object of suspicion and his wife is enraged with him. Trouble is…she’s also a bit turned on.
It’s been a long time since we saw a solid film with big stars that centered around a series of sexy affairs, but it’s a sight for sore eyes. Films like Jane Campion’s In the Cut and Lyne’s own An Indecent Proposal are brought to mind, horny thrillers that walk a fine line between the horror of murder and the arousal at a partner’s possessive behavior. Movies about unhealthy, toxic partners that can’t seem to get enough of each other are few and far between (the last I can recall is David Fincher’s Gone Girl), and it’s such a surprise to get a well-acted piece of excellent, trashy sensuality like this.
The centerpiece of the film rests on the chemistry between Affleck and Armas, which is fine because the couple was actually hooking up while shooting this and that bleeds into the final product believably. Ben’s channeling a lot of things here, but he got to dip his toes into these waters eight years ago with Gone Girl. This time around his character seems to just be “what if he was as bad as this previous role tried to paint him as?” and it pays off like a slot machine. Armas is his equal, a charming young beauty that married rich and regrets a lot of her life. Much of her performance is so aggressively physical, from sprinting away with a lover in front of a whole party to bending over to pleasure her husband on the drive home (it’s 2022 and we’ve been given a film where she sadly picks a pube from beneath her teeth while chastising her cuckold of a husband about being attracted to another woman). While the film stumbles throughout in terms of pacing and an overly complicated “will he get caught” plot, the sheer powerhouses in the lead roles make up for quite a bit of flibbertigibbet in the script.
Not that we should ignore any of the other performances, each of which is pretty solid. I’ve mentioned Kristen Connelly, but the character’s husband, Don Wilson (Tracy Letts), is a fun-but-bumbling foil for Affleck’s killer. Don suspects Vic Van Allen has killed before and will do it again, teaming up with Melinda offscreen to hire a private investigator to look for evidence. Is Don jealous that his wife, Kelly, seems to have so much chemistry with Vic? Maybe, and Melinda’s string of blatant affairs certainly leaves Don’s marriage open for invasion if Vic decides to retaliate with his dick instead of his fists. Is it that Don truly believes he needs to bring the man to justice? Unlikely, but he’ll try all the same. Don is a screenwriter and aspiring novelist, one that is only having a modicum of success, and his jealousy towards Vic’s casual early retirement and contribution to military drone technology doesn’t sit well. Letts is effortless in the role, befuddled and determined all at once, and he’s perhaps the best-served by cinematographer Eigil Bryld’s efforts.
This isn’t going to go down as any sort of undersung classic. It’s a thriller that would have made big money twenty-five years ago, but now it’s merely a fun film out of its time. Deep Water will go unseen by a great many viewers, and that’s such a shame. We don’t get films like this very often anymore, sexy and exciting if a bit silly. This is the age of superheroes, where everyone is a gorgeous action figure that’s got the genitalia of a Barbie Doll (i.e. there’s none there). Deep Water dares to give us a hot tale of marital warfare and I hope many of you will give it a shot. I had a good time with it, and it’s a hard recommend.
Deep Water is currently streaming on Hulu.