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'The Deep End'

Undercurrent of suspense flows through 'Deep End'

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

After a long, hot and generally disappointing summer, "The Deep End" arrives today to provide an end-of-season lift. It is one of the best movies to float our way, bolstered by recurring images of water, a superb performance by Tilda Swinton and the suspenseful way her character, Margaret Hall, steps down a nightmarish rabbit hole.


 
 
"The Deep End"

Rating: R for violence, language and a strong sex scene.

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic

Directors: Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Critic's call:

   

 

One day, she's a Lake Tahoe mother of three, a Navy wife worried about her 17-year-old son's increasingly reckless behavior. The next, she is dumping a corpse and trying to raise $50,000 to keep blackmailers at bay -- and protect her son from being drawn into a murder investigation. Nothing will stop her from keeping him safe. Nothing.

At the same time, though, she must deal with the daily draining demands of running a household: trying to reach her incommunicado husband; looking after her retired father-in-law; doing laundry; and ferrying three children to school, Little League, ballet and water polo. She is frantically treading water in the pool of life and slipping under the surface.

Her college-bound (and secretly gay) son, Beau, is in over his head, as well. He has taken up with a predatory 30-year-old Reno club owner named Darby Reese. Margaret tries to warn Darby away from Beau, but, unbeknownst to her, the older man shows up at their house. The men quarrel and come to blows.

The next morning, Margaret discovers Darby's body. Horrified at the thought that Beau might be implicated in the death, she moves the corpse and begins a series of ever-more-complicated maneuvers to cover up her actions. When a blackmailer, Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic), appears at her door, her life tumbles further from its normal orbit.

"The Deep End" is based on the novel "The Blank Wall" by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. It was first published in an abridged version in 1947 in The Ladies Home Journal.

Writers-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have taken the story and updated, massaged and plunked it into a setting that feels as fresh as the morning lake air.

The suspense builds from the opening, the sound of a hand rapping on a metallic door. It's a mother on a mission. The tension continues to build, as if we were climbing a mountain and facing thinner air and more precarious turns in the road.

"Deep End" is saturated with images of water. The lake. Indoor fish tanks. Jugs of bottled water. A fat drop of water from the kitchen faucet that catches Margaret's reflection and then plops into the sink.

Swinton and the sexy Visnjic have a synergistic screen relationship. The blackmailer, with a pair of dice tattooed on his neck, starts off as a cold-hearted intruder but doesn't stay that way. Margaret, meanwhile, is drawn deeper into a shadowy, desperate world.

Visnjic nicely navigates his character's arc, which takes him to a surprising place. As Beau, Jonathan Tucker has a bit of a Kirk Cameron sort of innocence about him, but he has his furtive side and increasingly suspects his mother has hers.

"Deep End" is about more than an untimely death and blackmail. It also explores a mother's ferocity, family dynamics, sacrifice, love and the riptide pull of secrets.

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