Deependable Mom

A teenager gets in over his head and his mother goes to extraordinary lengths to bail him out. It may sound like an ordinary TV Movie of the Week, but intelligent writing, sleek visuals and an upside down moral universe all combine to make The Deep End a substantial film. This remake of Max Ophuls' classic noir The Reckless Moment stars Tilda Swinton as soccer mom Margaret, who finds herself isolated in her attempts to protect her children from an increasingly dangerous world.

Ghostly pale, lanky Swinton begins her trip into the noir underworld when her character Margaret travels from her comfortable Lake Tahoe shorefront home to visit Darby, the much older, scummier lover of her seventeen-year-old son Beau. Margaret's disapproval of the relationship prompts Beau to retreat from her and Darby to visit him. After Darby confirms that he offered to stay away from Beau for money, they quarrel and Beau runs away. Darby accidentally falls into the lake onto an anchor and dies. When Margaret discovers Darby's body, she mistakenly assumes that Beau killed him. Desperate to protect her son, Margaret moves and dumps Darby's body in a distant part of the lake. When she tries to question Beau, he clams up. He's unwilling to come out as gay, but she mistakes his silence for guilt.

Life ferrying her three kids to school and practice resumes for a lonely Margaret, whose military husband is stationed far away. When Darby's body is discovered, blackmailer Alex shows up. Alex and his partner Nagel want $50,000 in exchange for a sex video tape showing that Beau and Darby had a definite connection. Margaret tries and fails to raise the money. Alex shows up at her house for the money and finds Margaret trying to revive her father-in-law Jack from a heart attack. Moved, Alex performs CPR on Jack. Despite having bonded to her over cardiac arrest, Alex pressures Margaret for the money after Nagel makes him.

But Alex isn't the only one torn over conflicting allegiances. The changing relationship between Margaret and Alex is surprising and satisfying. But what could have been a powerful and twisty conclusion evaporates. The film draws to its inexorable close with all the energy of a limp rag. Aided by cool visuals of Lake Tahoe and the isolated shorefront house, writer-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have a great set-up and central twist but execute the conclusion almost perfunctorily.

British arthouse mainstay Tilda Swinton isn't wholly convincing as a soccer mom. She fumbles her way through an American accent and reed-thin and pale, she's not the obvious choice to play a woman initially fulfilled by tending the suburban homefires. But her brittleness, borne of loneliness and fear, make her convincing as a panicky, protective mother. Goran Visnjic broods handsomely as the hunky but heartless blackmailer but suggests little else. Jonathan Tucker is adequate as the teenage son who mistakenly thinks he's doing his mother a favour when he suggests they continue living in silence. Silence isn't golden; it's a barrier that imprisons the characters in lies and distrust, in the upside down world of noir.

(August 26, 2001)

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