December 18, 2001 -- "The Deep End" is a very good independent film playing in a few theaters around the country (video release is tentatively slated for March, 2002). It belies it's tiny budget in nearly every respect. It is a gripping suspense drama that grabs you by the throat and just won't let go.
Written, produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel of i5 Films (they also directed "Suture" a few years ago), the film features great performances, especially by Tilda Swinton of "The Beach" and "Vanilla Sky," who plays Margaret Hall, and Goran Visnjic of the TV show "ER," who plays Alek Spera, a bad guy you can sympathize with.
Hall's son, Beau (Jonathan Tucker of "The Virgin Suicides"), has become involved with an unsavory character, Darby Reese (Josh Lucas of "Training Day"). One night Reese comes calling at the Hall's Lake Tahoe home. He gets into a fight with Beau and is accidentally killed. Margaret finds the body the next morning and disposes of it in the lake, not wanting to get her son involved in a murder investigation. Of course the problem does not go away. Reese's body is found and two more unsavory characters, blackmailers, come calling, Spera and Carlie Nagel (Raymond J. Barry of "The Chamber"). Spera shows Margaret a videotape of her son having sex with Reese and tells her she has to give him $50,000 or he will turn the tape over to the police and her son will become a suspect in Reese's murder.
Since her husband is serving on an aircraft carrier in another part of the world, Margaret cannot contact him and she can't raise the money. When Spera presses Margaret for the money, she confronts him, telling him he can't understand what her family is going through. Spera, shamed, develops a healthy respect for the feisty woman. Although it is clear Spera wishes he had never gotten involved in the blackmail scheme, his heartless partner, Nagel, is not going to give Margaret any slack. He wants the full $50,000.
Swinton does a brilliant job of playing an average person who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. The desperation she feels is palatable as she tries everything she can think of to raise the $50,000. At the same time, she takes the kids to school and does her household chores. Perhaps what makes Swinton's performance so believable is that she does not look like a movie star. She really looks like a normal person. She also does not overact, you can see the emotions, but she keeps them under control as she does her normal work around the house and tries to hide the truth from her children. While the choices she makes are not necessarily the smartest choices, the way she makes the choices is believable. It is a sort of reaction without thinking, based on the instinct to protect her family.
Goran Visnjic is no less brilliant as the blackmailer who develops a friendship with his intended victim. Much that is unspoken passes between he and Swinton on the screen. His facial expressions subtly indicate what he is thinking and feeling. His reluctance shows in every scene. He is a basically decent man who has gotten himself involved in something which is getting out of control. He hates himself and what he has become. Raymond J. Barry, a fine character actor, is also effective as the menacing blackmailer, Carlie Nagel, who singlemindedly pursues his goal of collecting the money.
The directors keep the tension wound tight throughout most of the film. There is no letup until the very end. The screenplay was based on a novel. "The Blank Wall," by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. While this an independent film, it is very much in the Hollywood tradition, and I think it would have done well in a wider release. It is certainly a polished and compelling piece of filmmaking. This film rates a B+. "The Deep End" is an effective argument against those who maintain that good independent films are not being made today. This film is proof that it can be done. This film is so much better than the ordinary run-of-the-mill stuff you see every week. It is too bad there isn't a better kind of merit system for deciding which films get big marketing campaigns. If it was up to me, I'd take all the money that is being used to market "Not Another Teen Movie" and give it to "The Deep End." Here's a film that at least deserves to be seen.
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