The opening half hour of Deep Water depicts a failing marriage, wonderfully acted by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas in a way which communicates poignantly that Melinda’s infidelity hurts Vic less than her carelessness in conducting affairs. Unfortunately this is followed by 90 minutes of turgid plot-driven and coincidence-laden mildly erotic thriller after Vic is accused of murder. The characters react in wholly unrealistic ways that the audience is expected to accept with throwaway lines in a script that rarely scratches beneath the surface — overt acknowledgments that Vic is “weird” are woefully insufficient. Deep Water may have been intended to explore the complexities of human desire and relationships but the result feels more like a lurid revenge fantasy, made all the more disappointing by its engaging opening act. Whilst it may mark Adrian Lyne’s return to directing after 20 years, Deep Water does little to suggest we have missed much in the interim.
“Fictional characters get more empathy and respect from you than I do.”
Zendaya and John David Washington are immediately arresting as a glamorous couple returning home after a movie premiere in this pandemic production with no other actors. Malcolm is a director flying high on his film’s success, but we swiftly see cracks in the relationship, with tension bubbling up from unresolved frustrations. Scripted and acted like a stage play, including rants that become extended monologues, the camera draws in close during dialogue, showing us every emotion on faces of both the speaker and listener in alternating shots (there is some wonderful blocking on the rare occasions that they both share the screen). Full body shots tend be reserved for monologues, where the expressiveness shifts to body language. Appreciation for theatrical performance is likely to determine how enjoyable one finds Malcolm & Marie. There is something slightly strange about white writer-director Sam Levinson using the character of a black director as a mouthpiece to vent frustrations about film critics politicising minority creators. At first the comments seemed to reveal Malcolm’s lack of self-awareness and Marie’s intelligence, but returning to the subject again suggests Levinson wanted these points to be taken seriously. Fittingly, the single setting becomes increasingly claustrophibic even as the pair drift between rooms of the house, whilst the enveloping darkness is threatening in the brief sequences outside. The couple’s argument is not a single direction of travel: this is a tug of war between two people intimately familiar with how to hurt each other, reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but without guests to toy with as proxies. Unfortunately, Malcolm & Marie runs too long and does not close with any cathartic revelation, having essentially played its cards within the first forty minutes and then retreading the same ground to pad out its running time unnecessarily. As a result, due to no fault of the actors, both characters steadily switch from engaging to tedious.