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:: The Deep End

The Deep End is an involving and intelligent thriller and, unlike similar films in its genre, doesn’t rely much on narrative twists and turns. The complexity lies more in the characters than in the plot. The directors, producers and co-writers are Scott McGehee and David Siegel, and they heighten suspense by using the “wrong man” theme. And the acting performance of Scottish actress Tilda Swinton is one to remember. She proves again that she can virtually carry an entire film on her shoulders.

Swinton plays Margaret Hill, a lonely housewife living out her time at the family home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Her husband is an officer at a Pacific naval base, and her father-in-law Jack (Peter Donat) is the only patriarch in the household. She has three children, young Dylan (Jordon Dorrance), daughter Paige (Tamara Hope), and a 17-year-old son Beau (Jonathan Tucker). The film opens with a confrontation where Margaret finds sleazy Darby Reese (Josh Lucas) making advances to her son Beau. Reese tells her he’ll only stay away for money. Beau scorns his mother after hearing of the ultimatum. Reese pays Beau a visit and there is a scuffle at the boathouse. In a well-crafted scene, Beau tells Reese to leave but the fight results in a shaken Reese leaning on a dock rail that gives way. Reese is left impaled on the fluke of an anchor as he falls off.

The next morning, Margaret finds the dead body and immediately figures that her son must have killed Reese. She gets rid of the corpse in the lake and takes care of the other small pieces of evidence. But Margaret’s troubles have only just begun. The body is discovered and a major disruption enters her life. There is one piece of evidence that will incriminate her son Beau – a video made by Reese between him and Beau. Coming to the house door is mystery man Alek (Goran Visnjic). He has a copy of the tape that could destroy Beau’s life. “The Deep End” then moves into a blackmail saga.

Good thrillers have a sense of place and the setting propels the audience’s involvement with the story. It all succeeds. The joy of watching Tilda Swinton’s character is seeing her reach deeper and deeper into desperation to protect her son, while he goes through his life worrying about his problems. She even tackles the American accent with aplomb. It’s a very believable, enthralling performance. Goran Visnjic handles a challenging role with charisma and control, while Jonathan Tucker is very good as Beau. The filmmakers use plenty of cinematic style and technique, and the score adds a mesmerisingly tense mood to the film.

The drama is driven by such common elements as those on show make it accessible to all of us, and very close to home. The scriptwriters deserve praise for the astute handling of a mother’s love for her son, and the price she pays for letting it motivate her. It’s a love story that is fierce. The result of all this makes “The Deep End” one of the really good thrillers of 2001.

Screening on general release, including Westgarth Theatre