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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Movie Scene
'Deep End' is classic film noir at its best

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service


(Rated R, with profanity, violence and a strong sex scene). Three-and-a-Half Stars (Good-to-Excellent)

An engrossing relationship drama, made even more tantalizing by the film noir mystery that envelops it. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as a mother, trying to save her son from entanglements that lead to death and blackmail. Goran Visnjic and Jonathan Tucker co-star. Fox Searchlight, 99 mins.

Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) is a resourceful housewife at the center of the tantalizing film noir mystery "The Deep End."

Played with skill and intelligence by Swinton, in one of the premiere performances of the season, Margaret and her family live along the shores of Lake Tahoe, just outside of Reno, Nev. Her lot is to care for her three school-aged children and her sickly father-in-law, while her naval-officer husband is out to sea.

And when Margaret's 17-year-old son, Beau, becomes embroiled in a nasty relationship that ends in a death, Margaret's resourcefulness and passion know no bounds.

We first encounter Margaret knocking determinedly on the office door of The Deep End, a gay nightclub in Reno. She's there to tell Darby Reese, the slimy 30-year-old club manager, to stay away from her teen-age boy.

Darby (Josh Lucas) had recently seduced her son, the two had gotten drunk, and were then involved in an automobile accident that almost got them killed. Her boy is a good, bright kid and a talented musician, and about to win a slew of scholarships to prestigious colleges.

Darby comes by the house that night, however, and he and the youth (Jonathan Tucker) sneak out to the boathouse, where a fight ensues. After the boy leaves, the dazed Darby falls, and impales himself on an anchor.

Margaret discovers the body in the early morning, understands it was an accident, but assumes her son was responsible. She immediately starts the cover-up process. First step: dump the body in the lake.

The body is discovered and, a short time later, the mysterious Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic) comes to the door. "The Deep End" shifts gears into the blackmail saga that occupies most of the film.

Through it all, "The Deep End" remains a study of the fascinating Margaret, her devotion to her troubled but talented son, and her grudgingly growing respect for Alek, the complex, compelling and unpredictable blackmailer.

Co-writers and directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have adapted their script from Elizabeth Sanxay Holding's 1940s novel, "The Blank Wall," which previously inspired Max Ophuls 1949 noir, "The Reckless Moment."

But despite those roots (and to the filmmakers' credit) this taut and compact new version is decidedly contemporary, in both theme and style.

One key is the gender shift that makes Margaret's child a boy instead of a girl; making the illicit affair gay; a topic you'd never see explored in mainstream cinema of the '40s.

Even better, McGehee and Siegel neither exploit nor preach about that aspect. Certainly, viewers will sense Margaret's concern about her son's emerging gay sexuality, and about what she expects will be the reaction of her now-absent military husband.

But she's never judgmental; her discoveries never dim her love for her child, nor alter her hope for his potential.

Swinton, who has only recently emerged from an early career in edgy independent cinema, makes Margaret a particularly memorable character. Despite the turmoil and emotions swirling around her, the woman remains calm and collected on the surface.

But it's also clear she has to be, to keep herself and her family afloat. That's the richer, deeper layer of Swinton's remarkably restrained performance.

Rated R, with profanity, violence and a strong sex scene.