Margaret Hall would be the quintessential hard-nosed movie heroine, battling enemies and saving the day, if only she didn’t have to spend so much time getting the kids ready for school.
Played with fierce energy by Tilda Swinton in “The Deep End,” Margaret is a mother of three whose Navy husband is out to sea, leaving her to care for the kids and her slightly doddering father-in-law (Peter Donat) in their picturesque Lake Tahoe home.
Her eldest son, Beau (Jonathan Tucker), a promising young trumpet player, was recently in a drunken driving accident that has her worried. She blames it on the influence of Darby Reese (Josh Lucas), a slimy nightclub owner who has been courting Beau. Beau insists they’re just friends, but Mom knows better. She tells Darby to leave her boy alone.
One morning, Margaret discovers Darby’s body on the shore near their boathouse and fears Beau may be the culprit. Intent on protecting her son, she gets rid of the body. She is soon visited, though, by one Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic), a slick, scary fellow with a videotape of Beau and Darby having sex. Unless she pays him $50,000, he will send the tape to the cops. Not only will this embarrass the family, but it will also make Beau a suspect, now that police have found Darby’s body and ruled his death a homicide.
With quiet determination, Margaret goes about location $50,000. She calls her credit card companies and visits the bank. She considers asking her father-in-law for a loan. All of this she does while still attending a daughter’s ballet recital and ironing the family’s laundry. Frustrated, she makes the point to Alek: What is she supposed to do to get the money? She’s a mother, first and foremost, and not one with a lot of resources. This isn’t the movies, where people always have some untapped resource at their disposal. This is real life, with mortgages and malfunctioning cars and lost baseball mitts.
The idea of forcing an ordinary woman into the role of action heroine is an interesting angle for the film. It is not enough, though, to sustain it. There will need to be a development at some point to keep things interesting, and it never comes.
What the movie does have going for it, though, is Tilda Swinton’s performance. One fully appreciates the pressures that are on her already as a mother and housewife; adding a blackmail plot to it should make her crack, and she almost does. Swinton is strong and steely in the role.
Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (McGehee also wrote it, based on Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s story) are fond of water. Nearly every scene has a lake, fishtank, sink or other representation of water in it. The only question is what it has to do with anything. If it’s meant to remind us of the double meaning of the title — the deep end of the sea, as well as “going off the deep end” emotionally — then OK, we get it. We got it as soon as we heard it.
There’s an interesting bit of restraint shown in Margaret’s dealing with Beau’s relationship with Darby. That her son may be gay is not really in issue; it’s his boyfriend’s getting him drunk and letting him drive that worries her. In fact, the word “gay” and its synonyms are never spoken in the movie. Margaret’s love for her family is the key thing, regardless of who they are or what they may have done.
B- (; )