The Deep End review

:. Director: Scott McGehee & David Siegel
:. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic
:. Running Time: 1:41
:. Year: 2001
:. Country: USA

The Deep End is the most engaging film of an otherwise blah summer. Lake Tahoe proves to be the perfect setting for this "thriller bleu", replacing nighttime, urban noire with the cool serenity of water and forest. Combined with superb acting and an exquisite attention to detail, this is a film that will only continue to look better over time.

Tilda Swinton plays Margaret Hall, a middle class mom who tries to save her teenage son Beau. When his lover, a swarthy gay nightclub owner from Reno, ends up dead one morning in her backyard overlooking Lake Tahoe, she does what any self-respecting mother would do. She drags him into a boat and drops him into Lake Tahoe. Though she doesn't know what exactly has happened, her assumption that her son killed him and subsequent action means there's no looking back. When what she finds out later things could have been different, it's of course too late and beside the point.

As she deals with raising her three children alone (her husband is away at sea) and carting them off to various practices, as well as caring for her father in law, police come calling when the body is discovered. As if that weren't enough, Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic) enters the scene to blackmail her. He shows her a video of her son and his lover engaged in intercourse. His proposition is simple: $50,000 within one day and he'll destroy the tape. There are several reasons to get rid of it of course, apart from her illegal act. One her son is a gifted musician and college bound. Two, her husband in the military would simply not understand his son's inclinations. Three, well, what would the neighbor's think?

The eagle eye attention to detail makes this film work. Watching her spend the day doing laundry, picking up the kids, all while trying to get together a large sum of money and sneaking the occasional cigarette gives us a clearer picture of Margaret. Here you won't find a character showing up with bags of money, getting the goods, and then blowing something up. Instead you find a woman who follows her instincts but forgets about some small details. Sure, she dumps his body and then goes home, only to find his car parked outside her house. So back to the lake, undress, dive in, and get the keys out of his pocket. How's that for suspense?

Nothing works out as planned. Dark but good, blackmailer Alek becomes the lifesaver and a unique (though plausible) relationship forms between him and Margaret. Their relationship and the odd trust that develops is the crux of this film until a painful climax leaves everyone wounded.

The film is certainly an ode to women. "She's a mother, not a moron", says Beau's lover to a naive Beau. Sons underestimate their mother's strengths. And Margaret's teenage daughter is no weakling either. She's the one working under the hood of the family car, not grandpa or her older brother. They're the ones who actually fix things, for better or worse.

Class is also an undercurrent. Going in to Reno sounds about as appealing as vacationing on Skid Row. It's avoided unless absolutely necessary for these people living comfortably on the lake. When Reno invades Margaret's home, it's in the form of seedy characters she doesn't want her family to see. Not that Lake Tahoe living doesn't have its share of criminal behavior. One need only watch the end of The Godfather Part II for that.

Water is of course a crucial element of the film. Lake Tahoe is shot beautifully, though what lurks in its waters is altogether different. When her father in law has a heart attack, the large jug of water he attempted to carry crashes, surrounding him in water. During some time in the pool, Margaret sees the face of the one she's just dumped in the lake. One might not think of doing laps after such a busy day, but Margaret's determination to have normalcy overrides her emotions.

Performances are top rate. Visnjic is excellent as a blackmailer with a heart of gold, while Swinton deserves to be nominated for an Oscar. They feed off of each other and both possess a quiet elegance in their vulnerability.

A beautifully filmed thriller that keeps you guessing, The Deep End must be strenuously avoided by those who seek an easy movie.

  Anji Milanovic

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