Despite the efforts of Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas and Tracy Letts, 'Deep Water' is all wet
“Deep Water” is a sleazy little thriller in which a good and willing cast tries its best to latch onto snatches of a story that struggles at times to make narrative sense.
A valiant effort, but director Adrian Lyne, who specializes in “erotic thrillers” like “Fatal Attraction” and, heh, “9 1/2 Weeks,” and who hasn’t directed a film in nearly 20 years, doesn’t do them a lot of favors.
The film is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, whose other well-known work includes “Strangers on a Train” and The Talented Mr. Ripley.” It’s set in New Orleans, where Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck), who invented a computer chip that helps drones find their targets, has mostly retired.
Ben Affleck is so laid back he could be sleepwalking at times
He tools around on a mountain bike, publishes an art and photography magazine and spends time with his young daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins) in their fabulous house and elsewhere. Also he raises snails. Lots of them.
Nice work if you can get it. And ignore the moral questions your invention raises.
Vic’s relationship with his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas), on the other hand, is complicated. Bizarre, even. The way Lyne sets up the story you feel like you’re coming in at the middle a little bit, but evidently Melinda can see whatever men she likes. Not secretively on the side, either — right in front of Vic, when they go to elaborate parties.
Vic, meanwhile, is remarkably passive. He’s not quite accepting of the arrangement — you can tell it bugs him — but he plays along.
Why? Will Melinda leave him otherwise? Does this excite him in some way? Hard to say. Affleck overdoes the accepting bit so much he spends part of the movie seeming disinterested. Melinda clearly wants to get a reaction from him; that would be nice for the audience, too.
More:Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz and John Turturro star in 'The Batman'
In time, in time. Sort of.
(Gossip update: Affleck and de Armas dated while making the movie and after, then broke up, and have done no publicity for it. So there’s that.)
You feel kind of bad for Vic, as Melinda’s “friends” just walk up and talk to him, thanking him for being so open to such a thing. Eventually, while it takes him a while to come around to confronting Melinda, he does push back, in a bizarre way.
One of Melinda’s former “friends” has gone missing — another plot development that feels a lot like assumed knowledge the audience doesn’t have — and Vic just sort of offhandedly mentions to her latest (Brendan C. Miller) that he killed the previous guy. It scares the new man off, but everyone thinks Vic’s just joking, tired of being humiliated.
If you waste a Tracy Letts performance you're really doing something
Except Don Wilson (Tracy Letts), a writer who wonders if it’s really a joke. Like Affleck, Letts is in low-energy mode for most of the movie. If you can waste a performance by the great Letts, you’re really accomplished something.
Maybe Lyne wants them underplaying their roles so that de Armas will stand out. Of course, anyone who has seen “Knives Out” or “No Time to Die,” among other films she’s been in, knows de Armas needs no help. And there was no danger of her going unnoticed here, not when she’s doing things like standing on top of a piano at a party, then hopping down and playing it. She gamely goes along with all this. Sometimes it’s effective, sometimes it’s silly.
The next guy on Melinda’s seeming endless list shows up at a party at the Van Allen’s home. And then, after a sudden cloudburst, he shows up dead in the pool. Melinda and Don accuse Vic of killing him; he denies it, with all of the energy and conviction we have come to expect from his somnambulant demeanor. Even when he becomes more proactive, he seems like he’s running errands.
Things get strange from there, for reasons it would give too much away to detail. There’s nothing wrong with a thriller leaving some loose ends. But “Deep Water” trips over them too often.
'Deep Water' 2.5 stars
Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Adrian Lyne.
Cast: Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts.
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence.
Note: Streaming on Hulu on March 18.
Reach Goodykoontz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.