Look, I like Adrian Lyne movies. In 1983 he somehow made a feature-length music video, called it Flashdance, and it made $200 million. And you know what? It’s a really fun movie to watch that ushered in a cavalcade of movies low on plot and high on style. Fatal Attraction is high concept sleaze that earned itself six Oscar nominations. (I have no doubt it would have gotten another in the Best Actor category if Michael Douglas wasn’t also in a movie that year called Wall Street.) In 2002 Lyne made Unfaithful. It made a whole lot of money and its star, Diane Lane, got an Oscar nomination. And then, until now, that was it for Adrian Lyne.
It’s probably for the best because it’s hard to imagine Lyne’s movies existing over the last 15 years or so anyway. As mainstream movies have become more and more antiseptic, there’s really no place for Adrian Lyne movies at theaters anymore – as we see now with his first film in 20 years, Deep Water, based on the Patricia Highsmith novel, released exclusively on Hulu. There’s no chance anything like Fatal Attraction could come out today with big movie stars and make over $300 million (in 1987 dollars, no less) and also get a plethora of Academy Award nominations. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. Now that doesn’t mean Lyne isn’t going to try with a movie like Deep Water.
(Not even counting that Deep Water isn’t eligible anyway because it’s not in theaters, this is not a movie that would get any kind of award other than maybe the “Mike Ryan applauds at home by himself multiple times award at something he found hilarious,” which Deep Water is very much in the running for.)
First of all, the plot of this movie makes little sense. Second of all, while watching, I quickly realized I didn’t care. Ben Affleck plays Vic, a man living in New Orleans who has made a fortune selling computer chips to the US government that they use for drones. Does he feel guilty? No, because he just makes the chip and what someone does with the drone isn’t in his hands. Which is kind of like setting a burger wrapper on your side mirror in a moving car then claiming you didn’t plan to litter when it flies off. Vic is a weird man. He has so much money that he seems bored and spends his time throwing parties, biking around town, and breeding snails. Yes, for some reason Vic has a snail collection. I assumed there would be a payoff. As far as I could tell there wasn’t. Also, it looks like it’s very difficult to keep a snail farm inside a home. (Fun fact, my editor, who is editing this piece, lives a block from the house where this was filmed. He said there was a truck filled with snails parked outside.)
When Vic isn’t biking, having parties, and hanging out with his snails, he also has an interest in murdering his wife’s boyfriends. Or at least threatening them with murder in the old, “Hey, I murdered that last guy she hung out with who disappeared, and if you want to keep hanging out with Melinda (Ana de Armas), hey, great, but I’m just sayin’,” kind of way. You see, Vic and Melinda have some sort of an open relationship policy that’s never really explained other than Melinda flaunting these men over at their house in an effort to make Vic incredibly angry. Is he actually murdering them? it’s unclear at the beginning but, come one, what do you think? There’s only so long a movie like this can keep us interested with Vic’s quirky snail collection.
Then Tracy Letts shows up (who has also been so great in Winning Time) and knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and it’s all the better for it. Letts plays Lionel, a middling screenwriter who “writes screenplays about himself.” Lionel is also consumed by local conspiracies and while everyone else in town thinks Vic’s jokes about murdering Melinda’s boyfriends are hilarious, Lionel isn’t so sure Vic is just kidding around, especially after more and more of these young men start to vanish, or mysteriously drown in pools, or die from blunt force trauma to the head. It’s crazy all this is happening around poor Vic! But Lionel decided to take matters into his own hands and becomes a thorn in Vic’s side. To the point Lionel keeps showing up in places there’s no way he would ever possibly “just be.” I very much enjoyed Lionel.
If Deep Water were at all based in reality there would no doubt be an arrest fairly quickly. Yeah, gee, why do all these guys Melinda dates turn up missing? The police do show up at one point and Melinda literally tells them, “My husband is a murderer,” but the police seem to just find all this interesting more than anything and they let everyone go about their business and we never see them again. Honestly, the reason I enjoyed this movie is because it will lead to so many conversations trying to figure out each character’s motivation because none of them make sense. At times it seems like Melinda is truly terrified that her husband might be a murderer. At other times she seems flattered. Literally, no one in this movie acts like a normal human being and I could talk about it for hours and hours and hours.
Going back to Adrian Lyne. Yeah, I mentioned that his brand of movie wouldn’t have much of a place in the mainstream market over the last 15 years. But at the same time, it’s been so long since we have gotten a mainstream sleazy movie (released by Disney no less) starring two movie stars (at least, as much as anyone can still be a movie star today) that it feels like a whole new concept. To the point that Deep Water makes no sense, it’s impossible to make heads or tails out of character motivations, and there’s no real resolution or payoff to anything, yet I enjoyed this trashy dumb thing more than I ever thought I would. Perhaps it’s knowing there’s not going to be a new rush of films like this. It feels like a one-off from a director who made a certain kind of movie who also hasn’t directed in 20 years. So I’ve decided to embrace Deep Water and enjoy this last gasp from another time while it’s here. I hope Adrian Lyne makes 20 more movies.
‘Deep Water’ begins streaming via Hulu on Friday. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.