Deep Water review – erotic thriller loves Ben Affleck’s slack-jawed look

Hollow-faced Affleck becomes murderously obsessed with wife Ana de Armas’s infidelities in baffling return from Fatal Attraction’s Adrian Lyne

A quick way to alcohol poisoning would be a drinking game where you take a shot every time there’s a long closeup in this film of Ben Affleck looking silently unshaven, disgusted and also turned on, yet not turned on enough to change that slack-jawed facial expression in any meaningful way. Legendary British director Adrian Lyne has returned to film-making after a 20-year gap with this laboriously paced and sometimes bafflingly edited erotic thriller, based on the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith. It was last filmed in 1981 as Eaux Profondes with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert, this time Affleck and Ana de Armas are the couple in a toxically and then murderously dysfunctional open marriage.

Affleck plays Vic Van Allen, a super-wealthy tech guy who lives in a rather Updikean circle of well-to-do attractive couples; he retired young with little to do other than obsess about his gorgeous, free-spirited wife Melinda (De Armas) and her flagrant extramarital flirtations and flings; the understanding is that she is open about it with him, and Vic has persuaded himself that this excites him, but he is secretly becoming more and more enraged.

A former acquaintance of Melinda’s called Malcolm McRae has disappeared, and to frighten and insult one of her new lovers at a party, drunken Vic tells him he has murdered McRae. It is a strange, ugly non-joke that plants a seed of violence in his festering mind, and his behaviour begins to disconcert all of their circle, particularly local writer Lionel Washington, played by Tracy Letts, who senses something very off with Vic – and perhaps sees how this could be a bestselling true-crime opportunity for him.

Just occasionally, Lyne brings the right kind of flash, brash and trash to this fantastically silly and unbelievable story. But the film plods along in such a disconcerting way: there is no ratcheting up of tension, or plausible psychology, and the issue of McRae – as in, who killed him? What actually was he to Melinda? – is so bafflingly not addressed that you could suspect the whole thing is some Lynchian dream. Deep Water looks like a huge amount of material has been shaped in the edit but there are odd gaps and elisions. De Armas behaves as if she’s in some saucy cologne commercial, and Affleck appears to have necked a hundredweight of Percocet before the cameras rolled.

• Deep Water is released on 18 March on Prime Video.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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