An Old Master of the Erotic Thriller Gives It Another Shot

Adrian Lyne is now in his 80s, but he’s able to generate some sparks and unease between Ben Affleck and the new “It” girl, Ana de Armas.

Actor Ben Affleck stars in ‘Deep Water.’ AP/Invision

Set in New Orleans, the new movie “Deep Water” starring Ben Affleck features so many party scenes of couples and singles — it’s never entirely clear who’s married and who’s dating — dancing and drinking and flirting that it may just fuel a rush to “The Big Easy,” if it hasn’t already happened during the pandemic.

Available on Amazon Prime and Hulu, “Deep Water” is directed by none other than Adrian Lyne, the Oscar-nominated master of the adult thriller responsible for such titles as “Fatal Attraction,” “Indecent Proposal,” and “9½ Weeks.” With Mr. Lyne now in his 80s and not having directed a movie since 2002’s “Unfaithful,” one might expect a waning of his powers to elicit erotic chemistry and explore emotional tension. Yet he’s able to generate some sparks and unease between Mr. Affleck (Vic) and new “It” girl Ana de Armas (Melinda), at least early on, as they navigate what seems to be a one-sided open relationship.

I say “seems” because the status of their marriage is never truly explained. This evasion of a clear explanation for Melinda’s blatant philandering (a word that derives from “philandros,” Greek for “fond of men”) initially creates an interesting atmosphere, but soon the viewer starts to wonder why Vic doesn’t just start doing so himself, especially since several female friends practically throw themselves at him, or simply divorce his wife.

Once again, the modern-day viewer encounters a movie with a mediocre — almost inept — script. Mr. Lyne tries his best to convey as much information as possible visually and succinctly, as in the first scene between the married couple when they enter their separate rooms via a bifurcated staircase. He can only do so much, though, especially with awful lines like, “The moral of the story is Vic is a genius and he’s rich as f—,” as said by one of Vic’s male friends. 

One wonders what Patricia Highsmith, the writer of the eponymous novel from 1957 on which the movie is based and other books such as “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Strangers on a Train,” would make of the screenplay’s dialogue and its inelegant insertions of technology and contemporary issues, such as drone warfare, green-certified buildings, and texting while driving. 

For the most part, the movie’s pleasures are few and far between, with only Tracy Letts, the real-life writer turned fantastic actor, adding any enjoyable dramatic tension by suspecting Vic of murdering Melinda’s various lovers.

What to say of Mr. Affleck’s acting? At first, his impassive, slightly sloshed demeanor bars any insight into his cuckold character, but soon it reveals itself to harbor hidden depths, with his mumblings still able to mix in some vocal zings, and his more direct pronouncements wringing double meanings from every word. Meanwhile, Ms. de Armas conveys her character’s lust for life convincingly while playing off the po-faced Mr. Affleck, but the screenplay barely sketches her beyond a nymphomaniac.

Mature thrillers that shuffle together interpersonal dynamics, sexual attraction, and danger are so scarce these days that one almost wishes the movie were better. A positive of “Deep Water” is that it raises one’s desire to re-watch classic erotic thrillers like “Fatal Attraction” or “Body Heat” (starring the recently deceased William Hurt) — or even to reach back further to the suggestive “Double Indemnity” — to experience the vicarious pleasure of good-looking people doing terrible things. After all, superhero movies can only do so much.

The New York Sun

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