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Karl Michael Vogler
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With her husband perpetually away at work, a mother raises her children virtually alone. Her teenage son is testing the waters of the adult world, and early one morning she wakes to find the dead body of his gay lover on the beach of their rural lakeside home. What would you do? What is rational and what do you do to protect your child? How far do you go and when do you stop? Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Very effective performances and a strong first act eventually lose their power. *** (out of four)
THE DEEP END / (2001) *** (out of four)
By Blake French:
Lake Tahoe, the tenth deepest lake in the world, is a long, cold body of clear, turquoise water thriving at 6,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Isolated by snow-covered mountain tops, ponderosa pines, and upper class wood homes, this is the perfect backdrop for The Deep End.
The Deep End captures some of this harrowing atmosphere, but I wanted even more. The photography, by Giles Nuttgens, won the coveted Best Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival this year for its unflinching look at images of Lake Tahoe awash in moral tensions. The camera cuts through aquariums, dripping water faucets, bursting water bottles, and of course, across and beneath the lake's surface. On a photographic level, this is one great movie.
Writers/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel found their inspiration for The Deep End from the little known 1940's novel The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. The Ladies Home Journal first published an abridged version of the story. It became so popular that the writer eventually made it into a novel. According to the film's press notes, even Alfred Hitchcook was impressed as evident when he chose the book for his classic anthology My Favorites in Suspense-1959. Holding's novel was the only full length feature book of fiction included on that list.
McGehee and Siegel previously worked on the independent film Suture. "In their day, stories like these were very subversive because they asked questions about the nature of families, about the limits of communication, and the loneliness of personal sacrifice," says Siegel of Holding's story. "We wanted to bring those same elements in a contemporary setting with characters that would be sympathetic and believable to people today."
Holding certainly did have an innate understanding that true suspense emerges not just from violence and mystery, but also from the fabric of everyday life. The Deep End examines a housewife named Margaret (Tilda Swinton) who protects her gay teenage son (Jonathan Tucker) by covering up the death of his lover (Josh Lucas). Did her son kill this person? Someone might know the truth behind this act of violence, but silence has a very high price tag.
A very involving introduction and first act suffer after the diabolical murder plot takes a downhill spiral into a different set of events. Alek Spera (Gordan Visnijc), who needs money for his boss (Raymond J. Berry), creates a blackmail scheme. The film goes downhill from here, but the overall product is far from boring.
That's largely because of the beautiful performances. Tilda Swinton, seen opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in 1999's The Beach, leads the cast with a powerhouse performance. Swinton paints a vivid, intriguing portrait of domestic serenity, peaceful ordinariness, and motherhood's merciful nature. She can move the audience with utter silence; her eyes exclude intelligence, instinct, and compassion. She completes what the movie leaves unfinished, including her character's adherence to routine and complete loss of moral compass.
Gordon Visnjic (Dr. Luka Kovac on "ER.") with his dark, brooding physique, creates a shadowy nature for his character. His motives remain a mystery; we never know why he does what he does. It lets the audience guess-but we do not have much to guess with. The film does not complete his character. He's one of the most interesting characters here, but Visnjic needs more to chew on.
The filmmakers comment about the hidden romantic feelings between Margaret and Alek. "It's the kind of romance I miss in movies. It's not explicit and it is not necessarily even realized, but it is there in a haunting, melancholic way," says Visnjic. Where? We never really grasp these potentially fascinating plot points because the movie never examines these emotions. This is the kind of material that would have taken The Deep End to another level of interest.
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