Deep Water review – Affleck and de Armas are on fire

Cast: Ben Affleck Ana de Armas. Directed by Adrian Lyne.

It’s been twenty years since the last time Adrian Lyne gave us a film. His 2002 erotic thriller Unfaithful garnered praise for Diane Lane and a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. Since then, crickets. Considering his run in the 80s / 80s was Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Jacob’s Ladder, Indecent Proposal and Lolita, you could imagine he would have dominated as a new wave of stars came in looking to make edgy stuff.

Deep Water follows retired businessman Vic van Allen and his wife Melinda. Melinda enjoys the company of several other men younger than Vic, while Vic appears to allow this even as rumours spread around their affluent friends. When he states he killed one of Melinda’s former lovers to a new one the rumour mill goes into overdrive and suspicion begins to mount.

The film, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same from some seventy years ago feels like perfect material for Lyne. A cheating wife, a strong movie star as a husband, a good dose of sex, nice houses. The concept of being unfaithful has bothered a lot of his work. Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction is the obvious one but the nature of cheating by women has dictated much more of his work. Deep Water feels like a re-examination of Unfaithful from a modern perspective.

The screenplay by Sam Levinson and Zach Helms is never as sexy as it should be; it lacks the bite of Gone Girl, to which this owes a huge debt. Ironically Gillian Flynn said she was inspired by Highsmith’s novel of Deep Water and perhaps she could have brought more to this than Levinson and Helms do. 

Luckily Lyne knows how to shoot sex, and how to shoot a grisly murder or memories of a possible murder. Together with casting director Ellen Chenoweth, excellent choices are made; Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas’ real-life past relationship together lends itself to insanely good on-screen chemistry here. Affleck appears to be reprising his role from Fincher’s 2014 film, answering the question of what would happen to Nick if he got away from Amy? Probably this.

Ana de Armas in Deep Water

While Affleck is as sturdy a presence as his frame would suggest, de Armas is the one who carries the film. As sultry as she was in No Time to Die, the real echo here is her work in Eli Roth’s Knock Knock; possibly femme fatale, possibly a woman simply drawn towards her own femininity. Around them, Dash Mihok, Kristen Connolly, Finn Witrock, Lil Rel Howery and Tracy Letts help classy up the whole film. There is also an undercurrent of a subtext about the way the wealthy are pre-occupied with more. 

A possible murder leads screenwriter Letts to scream “this is a fucking movie!”, and pointed jabs are made that Vic made his fortune in the creation of microchips for military drones, the ease with which Melinda moves on to new young men, even the daughter appears to exist to want to gain more. But the film doesn’t ever focus long enough on the comments it’s making.

Perhaps because of the studio change around thanks to Covid, or a climate in which films are becoming more and more sexless, the film is a little choppy in places. Some of the editing is too stark to make sense, and the ending doesn’t fully satisfy. It’s a slow burn, and doesn’t burn quite brightly enough, despite Lyne shooting the whole thing with an eerily slow revelation throughout the course of the film.

In a landscape where films are becoming devoid of sexual chemistry or films made for an adult audience, it’s a welcome return for Lyne who reminds us why he made some of the most talked-about sexually charged movies of the era, and both Affleck and de Armas are on fire in the film. In the end, it’s the screenplay that lets the whole thing down by not being nearly as witty as it should be, or, crucially, as complex as Highsmith would be.

Still, welcome back Adrian, we’ve missed you.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.

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