THE DEEP END
written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel with Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, and Josh Lucas opens Aug. 17 at Harvard Exit
A MOTHER'S LOVE may be unconditional, but it isn't unquestioning. That distinction becomes clear to sheltered Margaret when she rashly decides to sink a corpse in Lake Tahoe's transparent blue waters to protect her oldest child. Inhabiting a comfortably insular Ralph Lauren world with three kids and an annoying father-in-law in her lakefront house, Margaret spends months on end without her naval officer husband when he's away at sea. At home, however, all comfort is lost with the discovery that her 17-year-old son, Beau (Jonathan Tucker), is not only gay but also involved with an unctuous older Reno club owner (Josh Lucas), who demands cash to leave her boy alone.
If that weren't enough of a shakedown, Margaret is further rattled when the club owner washes up dead on the beach— resulting in her impulsive early-morning boat errand. Unfortunately for Margaret (Orlando's Tilda Swinton), and fortunately for us, the stakes keep rising. Based on the same '40s crime novella underlying Max Ophls' 1949 The Reckless Moment, this simple, effective thriller by the creators of Suture (1993) burrows into Margaret's complacency, indicting its audience along the way.
Enter handsome, mysterious Alek (ER's Goran Visnjic), who bears an incriminating videotape of her son and his lover, and poor Margaret is soon trying to raise $50,000 in cash between loads of laundry and carpooling kids to school. She's alone, left to rely upon her resources—which turn out to be sorely lacking. Unexpectedly, Alek takes pity (perhaps envying her unobtainable domestic felicity), fatefully changing his position. Clearly there's a furtive romantic spark between the housewife and the tattooed tough guy. Dressing up for a rendezvous with Alek, nervous Margaret could be going on her first date—and Beau begins to suspect something's up. Meanwhile, his mother suspects him of murder, but Deep unwisely shows us more than she knows.
The whole picture is carefully coded in blue, practically drowning in water-related symbolism. Margaret's serenely living at the edge of an unfathomable abyss, of course, until forced to sound those depths. Deep hasn't got much depth itself, but its eerie stillness and restraint make for satisfying viewing—and an interesting companion piece to Sexy Beast, another crime flick about good people reluctantly drawn into an underworld while clinging to their loved ones. (Funny how family values are most effectively transmitted from so far beneath Hollywood's happy superficiality.)
So how does Margaret finally handle—and defuse—her precarious situation? Like any good mother, she uses the most powerful weapon known to con man and unruly teenager alike: guilt.
THE SOCCER MOM identity was bound to slip for Margaret, or so Tilda Swinton hypothesized on a recent visit to Seattle. "The crisis brings something up in her that has been suspended," says the Cambridge-educated actress, "a whole range of feelings that have been put away for a while. She looks like someone who's really out of practice with having to think or having to improvise or having to be self-sufficient in this way. She's almost entirely surrounded by men; she's so indentured in that way. She can't even get her hands on this money. She's really powerless.
"I think this is to do with the mother thing. There really is this challenge that comes up for everybody who becomes a mother. You have to morph! There's this whole new virtual self that comes about, which is you as a mother. You have to take leave of this . . . individuated self for a while. You have to say, 'I will get back to you.' It feels to me like . . . [Margaret] has kind of forgotten where she's left the bits."
Alek then disrupts that maternal role, Swinton adds: "She's really having to work out something rather grown-up with this man. This is really revolutionary in her life. Her identity is so completely subsumed. It's him that sort of flicks her switch back on."
Brian Miller firstname.lastname@example.org