It’s been 20 years since Unfaithful, Adrian Lyne’s last outing as a director, but many of the preoccupations featured in that film – as well as some of his other erotic thrillers, such as Indecent Proposal and Fatal Attraction – also drive his latest, Deep Water. With a plot that revolves around marriage, infidelity, and murder, the film stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as Vic and Melinda Van Allen, a wealthy couple whose glamorous exterior hides the dark truth about their marriage. Melinda maintains a steady slew of lovers with the full knowledge of Vic, and she openly flirts with them in front of him and their friends at the parties and events the couple seems to constantly attend.
Although mild-mannered, Vic, a retired tech inventor who keeps himself busy by raising snails and riding his mountain bike, publicly acts as if he’s unfazed by Melinda’s behavior. However, the growing depths of his jealousy become clear when he threatens her latest conquest, Joel (Brendan C. Miller), by claiming he murdered her last lover. As the movie goes on, it becomes clear Melinda’s infidelity and Vic’s jealousy are also part of the mind games the two play with one another. Vic is alternately appalled and turned on by Melinda’s affairs and Melinda often seems to toy with Vic’s expectations just to see what gets a rise out of him. The pair are dysfunctional, but this also seems to be the kinky arrangement they’ve both agreed to and prefer to maintain. That is, until it becomes clear that Vic’s jealousy of Melinda’s lovers really has driven him to murder.
Twice in the movie Vic mentions that he’s not normal, an observation that seems to nod to his ability to tolerate Melinda’s affairs. However, by playing up Vic’s muted jealousy, the screenplay by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson makes the character’s response much more typical than perhaps he’d like to admit – at least until it officially spills into murder. It’s Melinda who’s the exceptional partner. She clearly lives for pleasure and the way she flaunts her latest boy toys, drinks excessively, and makes herself the center of attention suggests she cares about little else, including 6-year-old Trixie (Grace Jenkins), her wise-beyond-her-years daughter with Vic.
Still, as a character, Melinda is incoherent, as likely to loudly declare Vic a murderer in front of the authorities as to take steps to hide his crimes. Nonetheless, de Armas makes Melinda highly watchable, throwing herself with passion into each of her scenes, even though many of those scenes seem to hinge on making herself fun and sexy instead of revealing anything about Melinda’s motivations or internal life. Vic is equally inscrutable. Affleck plays him as genial but slightly removed, a stance that causes Melinda to accuse him of lacking emotion.
Although the actors’ commitment to their roles and the Van Allens’ mind games keep Deep Water interesting, the movie is ultimately preposterous, and not in an enjoyable way. Even though the story takes place in the present day, its perspective often feels more rooted in the 1950s when the Patricia Highsmith novel that it’s based on was written. The simple fact that these two aren’t even entertaining the idea of divorce makes little sense today, and results in their toxic push and pull feeling more irritating than fascinating.
Some viewers may check out Deep Water because it led to a brief relationship between Affleck and de Armas, but anyone looking for insight into their romance will be disappointed as it’s difficult to discern why their characters in the film have remained married, much less why they got together in the first place. Ultimately, the one person in the film who’s sympathetic is little Trixie, who seems to be regularly neglected while her parents attend to their own concerns. Otherwise, much of the rest of the film elicits little more than an eye-roll.