There’s nothing terribly wrong with Deep Water (2022) except that there’s nothing all that right with it either. Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, this psychological thriller charts the marriage of Vic (Ben Affleck) and Melinda (Ana de Armas), wealthy suburbanites with an unconventional relationship. Vic appears taciturn and dispassionate, while Melinda is volatile and flirtatious, frequently flaunting her dalliances in highly public ways. This makes them the talk of their social circle, thanks in no small part to Vic’s tendency to play up the semi-openness of their relationship by claiming to have killed Melinda’s former lovers. As events unfold, though, Vic’s mindfuckery starts to ring alarmingly true to some listeners, and as Melinda’s actions grow more provocative, Vic’s reactions grow more extreme. But is the conflict driving a wedge between them, or perversely drawing them closer together?
The answer, ultimately, is a resounding “who cares?” Deep Water is director Adrian Lyne’s first film in twenty years, and reflects his proclivity for erotic thrillers that revel in moral gray areas. Unfortunately, the sensibility feels too contemporary with Lyne’s earlier work (Fatal Attraction, Indedent Proposal, Unfaithful), making the film feel old-fashioned and out of step. (The fact that the source material came out in 1957 may contribute to this impression as well.) Ultimately, it’s plays out like the product of an earlier time, transgressive and “controversial” by the standards of that era, with characters to match. More importantly, the sense of mystery isn’t particularly strong; the “twist” of the relationship is easy to see coming, so the only real intrigue is in the details, which unfold competently but coyly, laboring to obscure the core concept. Affleck and de Armas are fine, and there’s decent support from the likes of Kristen Connolly, Tracy Letts, and Brendan C. Miller, among others. But in the end it’s a plodding, throwback thriller fueled by a toxic throwback mindsets, its ambiguities not nearly as interesting as they wish to be.