The talented Mr. Affleck

‘Deep Water’ turns cringes into chuckles

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Ben Affleck as Vic Van Allen in 20th Century Studios' DEEP WATER, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Deep Water is a preposterous movie. Particularly the ending, which crosscuts one character chasing after another through the woods and the young daughter of one of those characters throwing a suitcase into the backyard pool. Why, you ask? Well, to answer that, you’ll have to see the movie—I wouldn’t dare spoil that here. I will tell you that the sequence ends with a shot so magnificently on the nose you may laugh out loud. I did. I loved it.

I’m going to be generous and suggest director Adrian Lyne is doing this intentionally. Though one of the more flummoxing aspects of Deep Water is how it waffles between intentionality and amateurism so casually, you’re never quite sure if you’re watching a good-bad movie or a bad-good movie. I’m going with the former, mainly because of Ben Affleck’s performance. Here he plays Vic Van Allen (what a name!), a filthy rich software designer who lives in a beautiful New Orleans home and cooks lobster bisque and the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had. His wife, Melinda Van Allen (Ana de Armas), is a knockout with a taste for liquor and other men. She sleeps with at least three beaus throughout the movie; affairs that are so public even Vic’s friends (Lil Rel Howery and Dash Mihok) are starting to feel emasculated.

Not that they exist in this movie for any reason other than casual comic effect and to make the story feel slightly fuller. Oh, yeah, the story: It’s about a couple of murders. Did I forget to mention that? This is not a particularly suspenseful affair, I must stress. About ten minutes in, Vic tells Melinda’s current sidepiece, Joel (Brendan Miller), he murdered the previous one. Later, Vic invites Joel over for lobster bisque and tells him he did it with a hammer. The fact that Joel continues to hang around either speaks to his lack of intelligence or Melinda’s bedroom behavior. There’s plenty to suggest the latter, but he still seems pretty dense.

Why Vic and Melinda have the relationship they do is beyond me. Psychological motivations seem to have escaped the confines of Deep Water’s screenplay, written by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson. A brief conversation between Vic and Melinda touches on Vic’s refusal to divorce her, but that’s about it. I’d venture that the source novel, written by the great Patricia Highsmith in 1957, probably had a little bit more going for it in that department. But I doubt Highsmith’s novel had Vic using the word “splitsies” in one of the story’s funnier confrontations.

And Affleck is having a lot of fun. When he’s silent, he looks as big as a tree and about as introspective. When he’s talking, he’s got that smart-alecky charm thing going. It works. The actor on the other end of that “splitsies” moment is Tracy Letts, who, bless his heart, doesn’t seem quite sure what movie he’s in. He plays Lionel, a mystery novelist who has run out of mysteries to write, so his new novel is about a mystery novelist. You get the idea that when he tells Vic this, it’s the first time he’s heard these words out loud.

Deep Water is a hoot. I had to pause the movie 30 minutes in to make popcorn. Not because I was hungry, but because a movie like this demands buttery popcorn. Deep Water could be, maybe should be, a touch trashier, but it’s wackadoodle enough that I was shamefully gleeful when one character met their end. I still don’t know what the hell’s going on with all those snails—Vic keeps snails—or why Vic and Melinda don’t just get a divorce or why Vic doesn’t just get down with Melinda the way she wants or answers to the other dozen or so questions that crossed my mind while watching Deep Water. But I do know I’ll be chuckling about “splitisies” and the way Affleck’s voice cracks when the Letts character catches him in the vicinity of a dead body for at least a couple more weeks.

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