Review: As a Movie You’ll Love to Hate, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas Deliver in Deep Water

This one is bonkers. Top to bottom bonkers. More importantly, the return to movie-making by director Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction, 9 1/2 Weeks, Jacob’s Ladder), Deep Water) finds ways to be both highly watchable and laughably awful, with its story of well-off husband Vic (Ben Affleck) and his beautiful wife Melinda (Ana de Armas), whose affairs he tolerates in order to avoid divorce. He says he lets this happen because she’s the love of his life, but something about their co-dependent relationship might also give him the motivation he needs to let out his inner rage in the form of violence and possibly even murder.

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith (Carol, the Mr. Ripley books) and adapted by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson (Euphoria), Deep Water is a film with a lot of smolder but almost no substance. Melinda doesn’t just let Vic know about her affairs, but she brings the men to parties the couple attends, invites them to dinner at their house, and doesn’t seem to care who in their circle of friends knows what she’s up to. She even lets them meet the couple’s young daughter Trixie (Grace Jenkins), who is mature enough to understand that these young, good-looking men make her daddy sad. Melinda doesn’t just have her affairs out in the open, she seems to get a sick pleasure out of rubbing them in Vic’s face, while rarely allowing him to enjoy her affections as well.

When we first meet Vic and Melinda, it’s at one of these parties where he finally encounters her latest boy toy. The second Vic and this himbo are alone, Vic makes it clear that Melinda’s last lover went missing because Vic killed him. When confronted with this information later by a friend, Vic says he was just joking, even thought said ex-lover did, in fact, go missing some weeks earlier. Rather than stick around, the new boyfriend leaves New Orleans for New Mexico for work.

But Melinda always seems to have a new guy waiting in the wings, and before long, we find out she’s messing around with her piano instructor (Jacob Elordi, also from Euphoria), and it doesn’t take long for him to die in a bizarre pool accident at one of the many parties this group of friends seems to have every other night. Once again, suspicion falls on Vic, but the police seem to be leaning toward an accidental drowning, since the victim wasn’t a strong swimmer and was drunk. But Melinda isn’t convinced. Nor is their writer friend Don (Tracy Letts), who decides, with Melinda’s blessing, to investigate Vic.

We learn a great deal about Vic that seems important when we hear it, but these tidbits never come back into the story. For example, he got rich by making a microchip that helps military drones hit their target. That detail is harped on a couple of times, but does he use this skill at any point to avoid suspicion or detection concerning his supposed crimes? Not at all. He also keeps snails in his garage in a kind of massive terrarium. He doesn’t keep them to eat, but as pets. And when one of Melinda’s boyfriends suggests frying them up for dinner, Vic makes a point of telling him that you have to starve the snails before you can eat them to make sure there are no toxins. It seems like the perfect murder setup, but nope, it never comes up again. I’ve heard tell that this film was originally 30 minutes longer than its current two-hour length, and although I certainly wouldn’t want even another minute of Deep Water, this thing feels hacked rather than edited.

After spending most of the movie having everyone believe Vic might be a murderer (which we assume will be disproven at some point in the final act), director Lyne just outright shows him kill Melinda’s fourth lover (Finn Wittrock) in such a ludicrous way that it’s laughable. In fact, the final act of the movie plays out more like a comedy than anything else, with car chases, more death, dramatic discoveries, and a final decision by Melinda that is certifiably insane.

The tone of Deep Water is just off, to the point where it sometimes feels like a pitch-black comedy and other times it’s a portrait of a sociopath married to a psychopath. There is next to no motivation for either character’s actions, and Affleck spends 75 percent of the movie in a perpetual glare at either his wife or her lovers (or both). At one point, Melinda tells him that this whole arrangement has always been a game, but I don’t understand the rules or who benefits from these two chuckleheads staying married. The only times in the film when Affleck doesn’t seem utterly miserable are when he spends time with his two best friends (Lil Rel Howery and Dash Mihok), but even then, they spend most of their time together berating him for putting up with his wife’s nonsense.

Affleck and De Armas were dating when they made this movie, yet they lack any type of passion or even chemistry. He just swoons over her, and she laughs in his face and flaunts her infidelities. Where’s the fun in that? Still, if it’s possible to truly dislike a film and still want to recommend people watch it just so you can talk about it with someone, Deep Water is that film. There are lapses in judgment, in logic, in the very fabric of time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it all seems to matter, even when it doesn’t. Now go watch this movie and hate it later.

The film is now streaming on Hulu.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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