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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/23/02

The Deep End
2001 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Deep End

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Specs and Features

101 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 51:24, at the start of chapter 12), keep case packaging, audio commentary (by writer/producer/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel), The Anatomy of a Scene Sundance Channel featurette, "making-of" featurette, photo gallery, theatrical trailer, TV spot, bonus trailers, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned

Tilda Swinton is an actress of remarkable versatility in both performance and appearance. She's been in major studio releases like The Beach and Vanilla Sky, and in movies like War Requiem and Caravaggio that have been seen by next to nobody. At times, her striking features come across as uniquely beautiful (Orlando and Edward II) and other times, she's so pallid and plain (Tim Roth's The War Zone) that she could easily disappear into a crowd without being noticed. But if you've been paying attention to film in the last several years, you'll know that she's easily one of the best actresses working today. Quite simply, Tilda Swinton does not get the recognition she deserves. She is an actress who is so free of conventionality that Hollywood really wouldn't know what to do with her if she chose to do more work within "the system." I've not been disappointed in her work as of yet, and her performance in The Deep End is her best yet.

Swinton stars as Margaret Hall, mother of three and wife to a naval aviator who is rarely at home. Her oldest son, Beau (Jonathan Tucker) is drawn into a caustic relationship with Darby (Josh Lucas), a sleazy bar owner in nearby Reno. After a physical altercation on the Lake Tahoe beachfront of the Hall residence, Beau becomes a potential suspect in Darby's death. It's at this early point in the film (about 20 minutes) that the sophistication of Swinton's performance takes over and steals the movie. Margaret is so dutifully protective of her son that she acts purely on impulse and conceals any evidence that might implicate her son in what is initially thought to be a murder. When Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic) shows up to collect a $50,000 debt owed by Darby, things get even messier. He insists that either Margaret pay up, or he'll hand the police an explicit videotape that shows the exact nature of Darby and Beau's relationship. As Margaret's involvement in the crime deepens, she battles her evolving attraction to Darby, a man who is strangely sensitive to her situation.

The Deep End is based on the 1947 Elisabeth Sanxay Holding novel The Blank Wall. In both the book and the 1949 original film adaptation, The Reckless Moment, the oldest child is a daughter, not a son. I've read both praise and criticism for this change. Since I've not read the novel or seen The Reckless Moment, I can't comment on how that relationship played out in either of those works. What I can comment on, however, is the intricacy this change brings to this version of the story. Margaret's maternal instincts and her ignorance, be it intentional or otherwise, of her son's budding sexuality gives her even more reason to want to protect him from those who may harm him. Yes, on some level she's acting out of her love for him, but what exactly is she trying to cover up? Like the movie itself, Swinton's performance is one that at first glance doesn't appear all that complicated. She has an icy, reserved demeanor and a face that never betrays her emotion. But if you pay attention and take the time to dissect the film and the work of the actors, the film takes on an added complexity that makes it all the more alluring.

Presented in its original 2.35:1 anamorphic format, The Deep End looks mostly good for its DVD debut. The film is awash in cold blues that reflect the film's water theme. I first saw this film in the theatre, and now that I've seen it on home video I don't recall the blues looking quite this saturated. To an extent, it works to establish an intentional visual texture to the film, but it also gives the picture an inadvertent haze. My guess is that if you've not seen the film in a theatre it might not be that obvious, but I know that the underwater feel of the film came across better theatrically than it does in this transfer. That said this is still a fine transfer. The source is an immaculate print that gives the transfer a crisp, clean look. Black level and shadow delineation are adequate, and there's nothing readily apparent in the way of compression artifacting or edge enhancement.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is a good, if subdued, soundtrack. It's a front-heavy mix that favors a discrete dialogue track over heavy use of sound effects or strong music cues to create mood. The surround channels aren't even put into heavy use for the musical track, which consists mostly of light percussive sounds and swelling strings. You'll notice some subtle separation effects in the front end of the mix, but nothing too dramatic. What's important piece here is that the dialogue track is first-rate and does not succumb to the other portions of the mix. It's a simple track, but it does what needs to be done.

You'll also get a tidy, but efficient set of extras to peak through. The audio commentary by McGehee and Siegel has its moments of interest, but some of what they discuss is repeated in the other features on the disc. Maybe I'm a bit jaded because I've listened to so many of these commentaries, but it's becoming increasingly difficult for a commentary track to keep my attention the full way through. Though they're skilled filmmakers, the two don't delve too deeply into the filmmaking process. However, what they don't do in the commentary track, they certainly do accomplish in the Anatomy of a Scene piece. This is a 30-minute feature that originally aired on the Sundance Channel. It's a thorough breakdown of the different elements of the scene in which Margaret and Alek discuss the particulars of the payoff. You'll get a detailed analysis of the choices in camera angles, lighting, location shooting, music, dialogue and directing choices. Plot-wise, there's not a whole lot that's revealed here, but do yourself a favor and watch this after you've seen the film. It's a pretty revealing segment, and you'll get input from the directors, stars, cinematographer, production designer and others.

Much less gratifying than the Sundance Channel feature is the forgettable "making of" featurette. Even for EPK material, this is boring, useless fluff. It takes up a whopping two minutes of space on the disc, and nobody would have suffered were it left off the DVD. The remaining features, though pleasing in one form or another, are standard disc filler: a still gallery of a few dozen promotional and behind-the-scenes shots, the theatrical trailer, a television spot and a host of trailers for other Fox Searchlight independent DVD fare.

I found The Deep End to be an involving thriller, but I can see how some viewers might be off put by its appreciation for melodrama and the heady approach McGehee and Siegel take to the material. It generated huge Oscar buzz for Swinton upon its release, but in the end that did not result in even a nomination for her work. If nothing else, perhaps the added recognition she's gained from the role will generate more work for her. The generally strong presentation on DVD, and the excellent Sundance Channel feature, are reason enough to at least give this one a rental. See it for that. See it for Tilda Swinton's remarkable performance. See it to shut me up… just see it already!

Dan Kelly

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