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The Deep End

Starring Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic
Based on the novel"The Blank Wall"
  by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Screenplay and Directed by Scott McGehee & David Siegel
no website

IN SHORT: Hardcore arthouse. [Rated R (for some violence and language, and for a strong sex scene. 100 minutes]

Scott McGehee and David Siegel are a very clever pair of writers. Most films we sit through reserve their big plot twists or revelations until what is labeled the third act. This leaves, give or take, two-thirds of the story available to help give you an idea of what is going on, regardless of whether or not we like the film. McGehee and Siegel drop their bombshell square in the middle, which doesn't allow us much playing room. Would they were as attentive as directors, they share that credit too, because what sinks The Deep End is a lack of directorial attention to detail. Our problem is how to explain what that means without spoiling the surprises. We're not sure if we're that clever . . .

The Deep End takes place in your average American household. Dad is a Captain in the US Navy, out at sea for the run of the flick and thus, responsibility for running the household falls on the shoulders of Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton). Her father in law Jack (Peter Donat) lives in the house. He may be frail or bordering on senility or Alzheimer's, his background isn't developed at all. Margaret has three kidlets, of whom Beau (Jonathan Tucker) is the oldest, and the one in trouble. As the film starts, Margaret has discovered that Beau is "involved" with a nightclub owner Darby Reese (Josh Lucas) and she puts her foot down. Reese, scum that he is, says he'll stay away -- for $5000 cash. And none of these negotiations stop him from driving up to her house, drunk, later that night. It doesn't stop Beau from sneaking out of the house for a rendezvous. It doesn't stop mom from finding Darby's body lying on the lakefront the next morning.

When all is said and done -- make no mistake, this first act is a terrific start --the mysterious Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic) appears, saying "I know Darby was here." He also has a videotape of Darby and Beau, in flagrante, something which he and a partner thought was "worthless," until Darby turned up dead. For a mere $50,000, Margaret gets the tape and Alec will vanish.

So, if you were a mom who thought her son had committed murder, how far would you go to protect him? Once you do, how do you deal with the blackmailer that knows what you did? That's The Deep End in a nutshell and a more perfect two sentence pitch we couldn't have conceived of if we were doing the pitch ourselves. That it doesn't translate into a movie you can believe, let alone sit comfortably through, isn't our fault either. Some critics we know are raving over Swinton's performance in The Deep End. It may be a totally love it or totally dislike it kind of movie with us in the latter camp.

Why? It has to do with one of the intrinsic problems of independent film making. Low budgets mean a small cast. Here, the lack of development of Jack's character leaves Margaret with absolutely no one to turn to for help. Second, when the "surprise" revelation is made, again because Margaret has no one to turn to, it is made to someone we don't believe she'd spill to and in a way that we didn't for a second believe. The first sentence of dialog of that "revelation" contained information that was already known to the person hearing it, yet he/she reacted with surprise.

You're all smart enough to do the math and figure out who's left. If you are overpowered by Tilda Swinton's performance you won't have any problem with The Deep End. If, like us, the spell is broken, the film becomes an endless sit.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Deep End, he would have paid . . .


For all of you who will see newspaper ads with the words "enthralling" and "mesmerizing" we only have this to say: you can drive in the open desert for hours at a time and become hypnotized by the monotony of the drive; you can fly so high in the sky that you lose all sight of the ground and become what is called "sky-blind". Neither one is a good thing. Both will probably have some very unpleasant effect on you, similar (to our reaction to The Deep End.

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