Cinema Signal:

. "The Deep End"

When excellent casting is brought in to support an excellent screenplay and accomplished directing you get a film like this: so full of suspense and tension you forget all else. In this case, the subject of this film noir is a set of circumstances which may be uncommon to the average family, but a mother's desperate willingness to do anything to protect her 17-year-old son is a note that will resonate throughout the human experience. We are with her from the get go -- especially as crafted by the consummate and not-enough seen Scottish actress, Tilda Swinton.

Up until recently, Margaret Hall, wife of a naval officer out to sea, mother of three, had her hands full running her household and caring for father-in-law Jack Hall (Peter Donat) in the small Lake Tahoe community where back yards include docks and boats. Then, when Beau, her son, (Jonathan Tucker) got injured in a car accident with his much older friend, Darby Reese (Josh Lucas) behind the wheel she realizes she has a little more to contend with. So, as the story opens, she is ringing the bell of the nightclub "The Deep End" which the smug Darby owns, to tell him to keep away from her son.

This effort doesn't play well with Beau when he learns of it, who sees his mother as an interference to his relationship with the older man. We soon see that the nature of the relationship is homosexual and, though consensual, demeaning to the young man, a reality not yet apparent to Margaret, who will learn about it much later in a hideously visual manner.

When Darby pays a clandestine midnight call on Beau, and they sneak off to the boathouse, the rendezvous becomes a clash, at first verbal when Beau accuses Darby of asking for $5,000 of his mother to stop seeing him, then physical. Both are injured and as Beau runs off, Darby staggers to his feet to give chase. Near the end of the dock he staggers off the dock.

The next morning, thinking she heard a noise the previous night, Margaret rises early and takes a walk along the beach and out to the boathouse. She discovers Darby in the water, face down on an open anchor piercing his chest. The only conclusion she can draw is that her son caused the death and with instant resolve, sets about to cover it up. She loads the corpse into the skiff and moves it several miles away in a shallow cove, weighted down with the anchor. She returns to the house, discovers Darby's car, returns to the corpse, dives down and removes his car keys, drives the car to a nearby community, and leaves it in a parking lot to be later discovered.

What she has done in order to control the consequences of what she thinks is her son's act is to set into motion many things well beyond her ability to contain or foresee, not the least of which is the appearance of Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic), a handsome gangster in the employ of Carlie Nagle (Raymond J. Barry). Alek knows that Darby was here with Beau the night he disappeared. What's worse, he's here in order to sell her a video tape in which her son makes an appearance with Darby, something that would elicit police interest in this particular family. Watching it, holding in her shock at what it reveals, she quickly accepts that she has to come up with the $50,000 demanded.

Margaret sets out to acquire the money amidst all the chores and duties her family and household demand. Complicated as it all is, more complications are to come, not the least of which is her father-in-law's heart attack and Alek's intervention to save the older man. Here is a gangster with a sensitivity that belies his role as heartless blackmailer. In fact, we see him struggling with the role he is playing, detecting signs of a moral dilemma and perhaps an emotional attachment he can barely deal with.

It is all emotional and raw energy, combining into a story of unanticipated complexity and suspense, lead by the academy nomination level performance of an infallible Tilda Swinton. Here is an actress who demonstrates how uncontainable emotional force is conveyed by restraining its overt expression. Her temperament here is control at the breaking point, transforming the diligent mom into a relentless protector. Repeat: this lady is destined for an academy award nomination this year.

The second nomination out of this film will be (we expect) for the tightly wound screenplay by Scott McGehee from the story, "The Blank Wall" by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. That story also inspired the 1949 film, "The Reckless Moment", starring James Mason and Joan Bennett. As a remake, "The Deep End" changes a few details (daughter not a son) but does full justice to its predecessor.

Interestingly, these last two titles are more appropriate than "The Deep End" (implying that she's gone off it) but movies, fortunately, aren't dependent on titles for their quality. And this film is quality of the highest order.

It's also worth pointing out that Goran Visnjic, the Croatian actor who plays Dr. Luka Kovac on the long running TV series, "ER", is a splendid choice as a sensitive man trying to maintain a hard criminal edge. The choice was canny, going with an actor who can play mean but whose empathy for other humans is natural and apparent, making it possible to insert sexual tension amidst the commitment and self sacrifice of a woman separated from her husband by his occupation.

The rest of the cast is first rate while the visual end of the production, masterful in all departments, was lead by director of photography, Giles Nuttgens ("Battlefield Earth").

Rated II, for intensely involving.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Tilda Swinton in
"The Deep End"
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