The Deep End 2.0 stars

The lady-in-distress storyline, unspooled on a smallness of scale that could nowadays be maintained only in an independent film, is agreeably old-fashioned, as you would expect when you know that it's a remake of a top-drawer 1949 melodrama by Max Ophuls, The Reckless Moment. The introduction of an explicit homosexual angle might seem not so old-fashioned, yet the portrayal of one of the homosexuals as a total and thorough degenerate is nevertheless old-fashioned to a degree, just not quite as old as the Forties. Collaborative screenwriters and directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have come a long way toward level-headedness from the jokey mistaken-identity hijinks of Suture (a minibudget noir homage shot in black-and-white), even though they're still prone to touches of the arty and the fancy: a character's entrance into a kitchen captured in a drop of water from the faucet. The image in general is crisp and clear and cool, if a tad decorative, and the scenery around Lake Tahoe shows more than the local Board of Tourism would approve. Tilda Swinton, whose pale papery skin, rodenty little teeth, and vaguely death's-head visage can have an unnerving effect in any context, gives a rigorously controlled performance in a part that could easily have slopped over the top: a Navy wife who, with her husband away at sea but her fussbudgety father-in-law underfoot, stumbles over the corpse of her adolescent son's gay lover, pries an anchor out of his chest, makes the mistaken assumption that her son planted it there, and takes it upon herself to dispose of the body in the lake. The body soon surfaces, followed closely by a pair of blackmailers with an X-rated video of the victim and her son. The spectacle of this woman juggling her daily motherhood duties while trying to scrape together fifty grand in hush money -- no superwoman, she, but a sturdy vessel of maternal instincts -- is in equal parts amusing, absorbing, and exasperating. Or to put it a different way, the overall thrust is debilitatingly disunited. Because she's so much alone, we don't have full access to her thoughts on the crisis, and these seem gapingly open to second-guesses. Nor do we learn as much as we'd like about the blackmailers' relationship to the victim -- how did they ever come into it? -- or to each other. None of this detracts from the therapeutic usefulness of the film as an illustration of why parents and their children should talk. "Honey, you can tell me. I promise I won't be mad. But have you possibly murdered anybody lately?" Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat. 2001.

Duncan Shepherd

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