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With: Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Raymond Barry, Josh Lucas, Peter Donat
Written by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel, based on the novel by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Directed by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
MPAA Rating: R for some violence and language, and for a strong sex scene
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/21/2001

The Deep End (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Lady and the Lake

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I believe it was the late Vincent Canby who once remarked thatfilmmakers should remake bad movies instead of good ones so that pastwrongs may be righted. The San Francisco filmmakers David Siegel andScott McGehee (Suture) have gone one further -- they've remade a filmthat no one's ever heard of.

OK, technically, it's not a remake, though it's based on the same source material, a novel by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. And the original is also a film that at least a few people have heard of. It's The Reckless Moment (1949) by the great Max Ophuls, which I not only saw at the Castro two years ago during a retrospective, but also plays on late night TV from time to time.

In The Reckless Moment, a mother (Joan Bennett) tries to protect her daughter from the advances of an older man, who dies accidentally at their lakefront home. A blackmailer (James Mason) uses the girl's letters to squeeze money out of the mother, but the two begin to feel a weird attraction toward each other.

The Deep End updates this scenario beginning with the luminous Tilda Swinton as the mother, named Margaret Hall. Swinton already has it all over Bennett with her extraordinary eyes and odd beauty. She straddles some kind of non-specific chasm between motherhood and womanhood, a woman who needs sexual companionship and a woman who needs love from her son Beau (Jonathan Tucker). The son has been enjoying a fling with a sleazy older man, who dies in a similar accident falling off the lakeside dock and landing on an anchor.

The blackmailer this time around is a much younger, much less certain man named Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic). He has a video of Beau having sex with the sleazy suitor. Before long he cuts his asking price in half, then tries to help Margaret find the money. By making Alek a younger character, he not only represents a possible lover for Margaret, but also a surrogate son.

Co-directors Siegel and McGehee play the material like an old-fashioned film noir updated for the times. Instead of a square black-and-white screen, they set the action in a full-color 'Scope frame. The Lake Tahoe locations allow for lots of trees and water (plenty of water), with strong emphasis on greens and blues, and culminate in a feeling of loneliness and helplessness.

That's the good news. The bad news is that somehow The Deep End feels slightly... off. Part of the problem lies in the relationship between Margaret and Alek. Though the movie implies the different aspects of their relationship, it doesn't quite go far enough. I know I always complain about how movies over-explain everything, but this time it's under-explained. I could have used a little more nudging.

The other problem is that the crime itself doesn't really have much at stake. So what if this guy was having a gay relationship? In the 1949 movie, we can understand how a family would not want their daughter seeing an older man. But now, who cares? The movie does mention that Beau's father is a military man, and that his homosexuality would be frowned upon. But going so far as to dump a body to cover it up?

Overall, I admired the film's atmosphere, pacing and look. I suspect the Siegel-McGehee team knows what they're doing in terms of the craft of a film. But they need to concentrate a little more on characters. They've taken a strong step in casting Ms. Swinton and giving her a role worthy of her talent. I hope to see more of that from them.

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