Having children changes you. I’m not talking about the sentimental Hallmark-card emotionalism that goes something like, “I didn’t know what love was until I had kids.” From my perspective that’s mostly BS. No, I’m speaking about how children completely wreck your day-to-day activities. We didn’t have our daughter until I was 35. I had a good life, full of good things. I’d watch movies, go to concerts, read graphic novels in their entirety at the book store, stay up late binging on TV, surfing the web, and blogging. That might not be the most exciting life, but it was mine and I liked it. Once my kid came along, most of that went out the door.
Babies need you every moment of every single day. You feed them, clean them, change countless diapers, rock them, cuddle them, cook dinner while holding them, pretend to be happy when they wake you in the middle of the night screaming, and swallow your disgust when they puke all over you (and there is nothing quite like the warm, gooey feeling of baby vomit sliding down your naked back at 3 o’clock in the morning.) As they get older, they get more self-sufficient, but it's still a constant, never-ending battle.
In The Deep End, Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) knows that feeling all too well. She is raising three children practically by herself (her husband is in the Navy and is constantly out to sea.) Her father-in-law lives with them and while he is generally self-sufficient, he comes with his own problems and needs. Her days are spent cooking, cleaning, running her kids to school, to band practice, swim meets, and everywhere else while also managing every other aspect of her house. She runs it like a CEO - it's all business, all compartmentalized, little emotion. There’s no time for that. She’s efficient, but has difficulty really talking to her family.
Just before the film starts, her oldest Beau (Jonathan Tucker) was involved in a car accident. He’d been drinking and a much older man was passed out in the passenger seat. Never thinking to just talk to her son, Margaret finds a matchbook in the wrecked car for a club in Reno called The Deep End. She visits the club, discovers it's a gay bar, realizes her son is having a relationship with its owner, Darby (Josh Lucas), and confronts him, asking him to leave her son alone. Later that night, Darby comes to their home and gets into a fight with Beau outside in the boat shack. Margaret sees him come back inside, beaten and bruised. She asks him what happened but gets the cold shoulder. The next morning she discovers Darby’s dead body in the back yard. The boat ramp is broken in a place, and Darby lies beneath it killed by landing on an anchor.
Not knowing the details, Margaret no doubt sees the scandal, the media frenzy, possible imprisonment of her son, and she reacts. She loads the body onto her boat, drives him miles away, and dumps it into Lake Tahoe anchored down. She’s hoping this is the end of it, but in reality the story is just beginning.
The body is quickly discovered by fishermen and an investigation started. A thug from Reno, Alek (Goran Visnjic), has a sex tape involving Darby and Beau and uses it to blackmail Margaret for $50,000. This is the point where most films would turn Margaret into an action hero and we’d see her exacting her revenge on anyone who dares hurt her children. But The Deep End is more realistic, more interesting than that. Margaret does what any real-life mother would do when confronted with dangerous men asking for money - she tries her damnedest to get it. Her family is upper middle-class but they don’t have that kind of money laying around. Desperately, she tries to remortgage her house, but she needs her husband's signature. She tries to get cash advances from credit cards, hawks her jewelry etc, but doesn’t get close to $50 grand.
While she is doing all of this and negotiating with the gangsters, she still has to take her daughter to a swim meet, ask Beau about college scholarships, and deal with her father-in-law. I love the way the movie makes the thriller aspects of the story just one more chore that Margaret has to take care of - coming up with blackmail money is simply another item on her long list of daily chores.
The directors do a good job of ratcheting up the tension and things slowly begin to unravel. I was enthralled for about two-thirds of the film and then they let a bit of sentimentality on board and things get less great. I won’t spoil it, but one of the characters has a change of heart towards the end and the reasons behind it aren’t quite realistic. Apparently that moment is in the source material (The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay) and in the commentary they talk about how they wanted to not only make a modern noir, but a modern melodrama as well. Still, it seems out of place for an otherwise really well done thriller.
The video looks good. It's got an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.34:1. Blacks are strong and colors are nicely saturated. There are a few visible artifacts and some halo-ing on certain objects but overall it looks quite nice. The audio is pretty quiet for the most part. It's pretty dialog driven but the music adds some nice ambient mood and the foley effects work well in the outdoor sequences.
Special Features are pretty basic. It includes a “The Anatomy of a Scene” feature from The Sundance Channel, which details one of the pivotal moments in the movie. The directors (yes there were two) do a nice audio commentary. They two obviously get along and have a good rapport while discussing some technical information and how they wanted the film to be more than a thriller. Also included is a basic EPK, theatrical trailer, and TV spot.
The Deep End isn’t perfect and its first two acts deserve better than what they get in the last. Its performances are strong (especially Tilda Swinton who is a marvel, as usual) and it is notable for creating a more realistic take on the stander thriller plot lines. Well worth watching.