REVIEW: Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas can’t save ‘Deep Water’ from sinking

Boyce Rucker, Staff Writer

Hulu’s newest original film “Deep Water” is an erotic thriller that adapts Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel of the same name. Infidelity, suspense and psychological elements are trademarks of erotic thrillers, and not many filmmakers are more fitting for the genre than director Adrian Lyne. Lyne’s 20-year hiatus from filmmaking doesn’t weaken his filmography’s focus on complex relationship dynamics alongside authentic acting and a dark side of sexuality. 

Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas in Deep Water (2022). (20th Century Studios/IMDB )

Lyne’s return to film isn’t this film’s biggest draw, however. The main attraction is seeing if shades of then-real life couple Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas’ relationship contributes to their characters’ dynamic. The two seem like an appealing duo, but their performances are part of the film’s descent to dullness. Despite its ambition and magnetic lead stars, “Deep Water” is a thriller that sinks low for its lack of depth and bland storytelling.

Vic (Affleck) and Melinda (de Armas) Van Allen are a married couple living in Little Wesley, Louisiana. Their marriage is loveless but held together by a one-sided arrangement. To avoid the stresses of divorce, Vic allows Melinda to engage in romantic activities with other men. One night, to deter one of Melinda’s lovers, Vic lies and takes credit for the disappearance of one man who went missing. This triggers an obsession over his wife that brings out his darker nature. Vic becomes the prime suspect of an investigation when more of Melinda’s partners die or disappear. The couple’s tolerance and trust for one another is put to the test.

Tracy Letts, Kristen Connolly, and Jade Fernandez in Deep Water (2022). (20th Century Studios/IMDB )

The film exhibits an escalation in marital warfare, but it’s not gripping or enlightening in regards to its topic. The failing marriage is the crux of the film, as we see Vic become more obsessive over Melinda’s affairs. Vic’s dark turn is portrayed as tragic as Melinda’s insensitivity towards him, as well as her drunken behavior, pushes him in that direction. However, that doesn’t make Vic completely empathetic. He seemingly consents to the open relationship but later murders Melinda’s lovers, an inexplicable shift. Screenwriters Zach Helm and Sam Levinson write Vic as a focal character that we might have more sympathy for, but he’s so non-dimensional that we can’t understand his motivations beyond jealousy. Vic’s obsession over Melinda doesn’t make sense when she continually degrades him in private and in public. For most of the film, their relationship does not feel like a marriage at all, particularly not one we should care for. 

The lack of depth prevents the film’s characters from being compelling. Vic’s descent should be a psychological focus of the film, but it’s not presented with subtlety. Everything from Affleck’s sad expressions to odd dialogue at awkward dinners make it obvious that Vic plans to murder one of Melinda’s lovers. The film makes the mistake of forgoing ambiguity for Vic’s actions, which eliminates the rising suspense and the conflicted feelings we could have about the character. Instead of capitalizing on suspense, the film explicitly shows him committing the murders with unexciting buildup and strong predictability. 

Ben Affleck in Deep Water (2022). (20th Century Studios/IMDB )

The film’s characterization of Vic seems like a disservice to how he was written in the novel. According to critic Anthony Boucher’s New York Times review of the novel, the effect of Vic’s initial lie upon himself “is more complex, and admirably worked out in a full-fleshed novel of pity and irony.” The film doesn’t convey an elaborate story at all given how Vic receives poor development here. It does not delve into any rich details about how the lie impacts him or when he begins to change. His decision to kill seems like it happens only because the plot demands it. We never fully explore his feelings or transformation.    

A good thriller needs to have a central mystery that drives the plot. “Deep Water,” however, tells a straightforward story that leaves no room for suspense or intrigue. The film utilizes Alfred Hitchcock’s “bomb theory,” where we know what’s going to happen and must wait in anticipation. But the actual execution of the theory falters by giving us results that affect characters we don’t care for and are inconsequential to the plot. There aren’t any twists that shake up the plot or create conflict for the main characters. In the end, there is no mystery to uncover at all.

Dash Mihok and Lil Rel Howery in Deep Water (2022). (20th Century Studio/IMDB )

Although Affleck and de Armas are remarkable casting choices, their performances can’t save the film’s deep descent. Vic seems like the perfect sinister character for Affleck to tackle after playing the total opposite in “Gone Girl.” Though he portrays Vic as threatening, it never takes off due to how uninteresting the character is, along with his dialogue. This shows in the scene where Vic confronts Melinda about whether or not she’s sleeping with her piano teacher, Charlie De Lisle (Jacob Elordi). Affleck doesn’t breathe life into the scene, sounding monotonous in his delivery. The inauthentic dialogue is counteractive to Affleck’s attempt at authenticity, which leads to an uninspiring performance.

De Armas’ role restrains her acting ability. Melinda is meant to be an unlikeable character, but this limits de Armas’ range as a result. Melinda’s consistently spiteful personality, along with the film’s greater focus on Vic, leads to a restrained performance. De Armas displays sexual allure while also leaning into toxic behavior that dictates our perception of her. Melinda mostly comes off as a sexual object, as we see her romance multiple men. The film, and de Armas, would benefit from more scenes featuring the character where she isn’t meant to be someone’s object of affection or a needlessly rude spouse. De Armas is a strong performer, but the film fails to make smart use of acting talent beyond a one-note character.

Ana de Armas in Deep Water (2022). (20th Century Studio/IMDB )

Affleck and de Armas’ real-life chemistry doesn’t show in this film. Although their relationship came from their work together on “Deep Water”, it does not translate onscreen. Whether it be the poor writing or their characters’ hostile marriage, Affleck and de Armas’ past relationship only seems like an attention-grabber for the film’s marketing.

“Deep Water” is an underwhelming and unfulfilling thriller that offers no suspense or closure. It’s hard to invest in when its characters and story fall flat. The film drowns in mediocrity as it fails to capitalize on the opportunities to make it strong, particularly in Affleck and de Armas.