Deep Water (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tantalizing comeback work from Adrian Lyne

“Deep Water”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, works best when it tantalizingly toys with the suspicion and mistrust surrounding a couple at the center of the story. It is a bit disappointing that the movie comes to lose tension around the point where it eventually shows almost every card held behind its back, but the overall result is mostly entertaining as a solid psychological thriller packed with morbidly erotic undertones.

The movie, which is based on the novel of the same name of Patricia Highsmith, is about Vic Van Allen (Ben Affleck) and his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas), a couple with a daughter residing in some small town of Louisiana. Because he earned a lot thanks to his technology business involved with military drones, Vic and his wife and daughter have lived an affluent life together in their house, but we come to sense considerable estrangement between him and Melinda when they are at an evening party held at the house belonging to one of his friends. As drinking a lot, Melinda flirts with a young man who has befriended her and her husband for a while, and she does not mind at all how that looks to others including her husband.

In the end, Melinda comes to have a pretty intimate private time with that lad, and Vic happens to see everything from the distance, but he does not seem to mind at all. It looks like that lad is just the latest dude in his wife’s problematic private life, and it is apparent to us that Vic and Melinda have accepted her infidelity just for maintaining a happy domestic environment for their daughter, though she is not exactly someone to win the mother of the year award.

However, it turns out that Vic has not merely tolerated his wife’s promiscuousness at all. When he happens to have a private conversation with that lad later, he looks totally cool with whatever Melinda is doing with that lad behind her back, but then he says that he killed someone who was also quite close to her just like that lad.

Is he really serious? Or, is he just making a little sick joke on that person, who has been incidentally missing for a while with no apparent reason? While he seems quite serious on the surface, Melinda and others around him including his two best friends are not particularly concerned about that because he has actually said that from time to time for, probably, laughs for others and himself. As a matter of fact, Melinda is quite annoyed when she comes to learn of what her husband said to that lad, so she demands that they should have a dinner with that lad for an occasion for Vic to apologize, but Vic is not so willing to do that, and his subsequent action makes the mood all the more comfortable between him and that lad.

Anyway, things seem to get back to normal for Vic and Melinda later, but then there come a couple of new troubles. Melinda soon gets associated with another man, and everyone including Vic clearly sees what is going on between her and that dude. In addition, there is a writer who recently moves into Vic’s neighborhood, and he is quite interested in delving into that unpleasant rumor about Vic.

The screenplay by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson gradually dials up the level of tension and creepiness beneath the screen as occasionally adding some nice humorous touches to be appreciated. If you know about Highsmith’s longtime fascination with a certain animal in real life, you will certainly be amused whenever the movie shows Vic’s little hobby in the basement of his house, and you will also be tickled by a colorful supporting performance by Lil Rel Howery, who provides an extra dose of humor as he previously did in his breakthrough supporting turn in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017).

As I said above, the movie becomes less interesting as stumbling more than once during its last act, but director Adrian Lyne, who was somehow dormant for almost 20 years since his last film “Unfaithful” (2002), keeps things rolling as before under his skillful direction. The finale is rather contrived and jumbled in my inconsequential opinion, but the movie still does not lose its sense of humor and irony despite that, and it even throws a little naughty wink at us during the end credits.

In case of Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who incidentally dated for a while after the shooting of the film, they click well with each other as exuding uneasy chemistry between them on the screen. Affleck, who is no stranger to playing a stoically ambiguous thriller movie character as previous shown in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014), ably implies the insidious possibilities of his character without exaggerating them at all, and de Armas, who has been more notable since her delightful performance in Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” (2019), embodies well her character’s alluring sensuality, and they are supported well by several good supporting performers including Tracy Letts, who has a juicy fun whenever his writer character regards Affleck’s character with suspicion.

Overall, “Deep Water” is indeed flawed in several aspects, but it shows at least that Lyne, who gave us “9 1/2 Weeks” (1986) and “Fatal Attraction” (1987), has not lose any of his skills yet. Although his territory is not as popular as before, he still can intrigue, tantalize, and entertain us, and I sincerely hope that this 81-year-old filmmaker will be able to make more movies in the future.

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