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The Deep End

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Deep End

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Jonathan Tucker
Director: Scott McGehee
Rated: R
RunTime: 99 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genres: Drama, Gay/Lesbian, Suspense

*Also starring: Goran Visnjic, Peter Donat, Joshua Lucas, Raymond J. Barry

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Lake Tahoe is known to Americans as a vacation spot, a place to escape from urban summer heat in the California Sierras-- fairly isolated but near enough to Reno's excitement. There are, however, people who live there the year-'round, folks who'd make most of us envious for their proximity to the turquoise-clear lake that gives the area its name but which, underneath the shimmering surface, is frigid and uninviting. In "The Deep End," Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton), a year-'round resident, is by contrast chilly on the outside but deep down, craves something more than what she's getting. She is lonely despite the presence of an aging father-in-law and three fairly decent kids. Her husband is a naval officer who is not often home. She's the type of woman whose pallid features announce her submission as a mom who is busy enough escorting her young daughter Paige (Tamara Hope) to ballet class, driving her teen son Beau (Jonathan Tucker) to trumpet practice, and keeping the little one, Dylan (Jordan Dorrance) out of mischief. The adventure that changes this domestic scenario, a tragic chain of events that, I'd imagine, she almost welcomes, supplies the noirish, if melodramatic, texture of a film--one which garnered for lenser Giles Nuttgens the Best Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Filmed mostly on location in Lake Tahoe, "The Deep End" is both directed and written by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who updated the 1940's melodramatic novel of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding fittingly to appeal to an audience in our less innocent time. Its chief merit is its repudiation of a Hollywood stereotype: One of the villains is not a mean guy after all. Though handsome, George-Clooney-like Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic), wants money, we see from the start that he's a guy with heart, someone who both alerts Margaret to her forlorn condition and even saves the life of her deadly-dull, annoying, live-in father-in- law Jack Hall (Peter Donat).

"The Deep End" opens with a visit by Margaret to a shady friend of her teen son, Darby Reese (Josh Lucas), with an urgent request that the 30-year-old man--whom she rightly considers a bad influence--stay away from the lad. She's ignored, of course, and when her son accidentally kills Darby, she covers for her boy and is in turn blackmailed by Alek--who is under the thumb of a senior blackmailer and really bad-guy villain, Carlie Nagle (Raymond J. Barry). As the film progresses at a lingering pace, McGehee and Siegel gradually up the suspense ante, juxtaposing what starts as a conventional murder-cum-blackmail melo with an unusual romantic twist. Aptly named "The Deep End," the story is fixated with water--the slowly dripping faucet in the Hall residence, the burial spot for a victim of accidental murder, above all a metaphor for Margaret's existential condition as a woman who is figuratively underwaterall the time.

Tilda Swinton, astonishing in her role as a cross-gender, trans- century woman in "Orlando," is more than proficient in a down-to- earth capacity, having an adventure in a single area during a period of just a few days--a woman whose iciness is slowly chipping under the influence of a dashing bandit. Though Scottish and sporting a British accent, she integrates herself well into an all-American community and makes the entire story not only exceptionally watchable but believably suspenseful.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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