The Deep End (2001) Movie Review

The Deep End is such an unassuming movie that it requires its actors to be just as unassuming or the whole movie doesn’t work. The film is a character study of a lone woman’s struggles to save her family, and thus, herself. Despite the fact that Margaret Hall is living in a house full of people, she’s utterly alone, having forgone her life in favor of the care of her children and her home long ago. Luckily for filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel, they chose correctly in Tilda Swinton, a fine actress who I believe is European (possibly British, although I could be wrong). Another good casting choice is Goran Visnjic (TV’s “ER”) who shows up as a dangerous thug who turns out to not be so dangerous after all — at least to Margaret.

The Deep End opens with Margaret (Swinton) appearing in a gay nightclub to warn a gigolo name Darby (Josh Lucas) to stay away from her son. Margaret’s husband, a Navy man, is out at sea, and it’s Margaret’s duty to keep her children safe. Darby shows how much he thinks of her warning by showing up at the Hall’s Lake Tahoe home for a late-night rendezvous with Beau (Johnathan Tucker), Margaret’s son. After a violent confrontation, Beau leaves the family boathouse with a black eye.

In the morning, Margaret discovers Darby’s body on the family estate, impaled through the chest by a boat anchor! Realizing immediately what had happened, and that if her son is implicated in the gigolo’s death that his future would be over, Margaret makes a decision to dispose of the body. As Margaret tries to deal with her actions, a thug name Alek (Goran Visnjic) shows up at her house demanding $50,000 by tomorrow or he’ll expose Beau’s relationship with Darby, thus sending the cops over to question Beau…

The movie is based on a novel called “The Blank Wall” by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and I am reasonably sure the book was heavy on internal thoughts and conflict much like its movie adaptation, which is very internalized and all outward actions are played for subtlety. The performance by Tilda Swinton is absolutely perfect. The actress, who uses an American accent that isn’t always successful (I’m quite sure she’s a native Brit), strikes the perfect note in every scene and speaks volumes with her face and eyes.

The Deep End is a moderately paced film that because of the intriguing performance by Swinton never slows down too much. (Re: it doesn’t get boring.) Once Darby’s death is discovered, Margaret’s mind becomes a roller coaster ride, never stopping, and we get to ride along with Margaret by way of her expressive face and eyes. She’s alone and struggling, and taking this entire burden onto herself, and we get the feeling she’s not quite sure she can handle it. As a result, we wait for her to break. And we wait, and wait…

Goran Visnjic gives an equally good performance, but sometimes seems overwhelmed by Swinton’s quiet Margaret. Visnjic manages to hold his own as the thug who threatens Margaret with physical violence when we first see him, but eventually warms up to her mostly because he marvels at her ability to handle the crisis, and his own desires to be with her — but not with her, the person, but be in her life. Goran’s Alek is a criminal, but one who seems not to like what he does. There is a scene where Alek walks around the Hall house after all the Halls have left for a family emergency that is quite remarkable. For a moment, Alek almost sheds a tear…

Filmmakers McGehee and Siegel make a very interesting decision to turn Mr. Hall, Margaret’s absentee husband, into an absentee character. Not only do we never see Mr. Hall in person, or in any of the family photos that crowds the house, but we never even hear his voice, even when he calls on the phone. This forces us to sympathize with Margaret’s plight and share in her feelings of loneliness, isolation and desperation. There is absolutely no one for her to count on to keep her family safe but herself, and the absence of the Mr. Hall character brings this home to us as well. This woman isn’t doing all of this because she wants to, but because there’s no one else but her.

The Deep End is a very good film from start to finish. Its characters are very well drawn, from Beau Hall’s struggles with his latent homosexuality to the bothersome, but always present, father-in-law. The soundtrack is just as low key and never jars the viewers into noticing it. It’s just there, subtle, in the background where it should be.

Tilda Swinton gives an amazing performance. It’s quite surprisingly that I’ve never heard of her before. She seems to be in her late “˜30s, and I can only assume she’s worked in Europe for a while now. Swinton’s interaction with Goran makes up the film’s highlight. The two are so good together that every single moment of their scenes is incredible, and makes me wish there were more.

Scott McGehee, David Siegel (director) / Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (novel), David Siegel (written by)
CAST: Tilda Swinton …. Margaret Hall
Goran Visnjic …. Alek Spera
Jonathan Tucker …. Beau Hall
Peter Donat …. Jack Hall
Josh Lucas …. Darby Reese

Buy The Deep End on DVD