The Deep End

Buggery, blackmail, murder. What's a mom to do? That's the question Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton), a parent of three, asks herself in The Deep End, a supple, stealthy thriller. Margaret's life in California revolves around caring for her Lake Tahoe house and her kids. Her husband, a Navy man, is away on duty. Margaret's hands really get full when she learns that her teenage son Beau (Jonathan Tucker) is not only gay but indulging in sweaty sodomy (there are videotapes to prove it) with much older Darby Reese (Josh Lucas), a sleazebag club owner in Reno, Nevada. One night, Darby visits Beau at home. We hear them fight in the boathouse. But all we see in the a.m. — thanks to crafty Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the film's co-screenwriters and co-directors — is what Margaret sees: Darby's body lying bloody on the beach, his chest bashed in with an anchor.

ithout talking to Beau, Margaret takes action. She drags the body into a motorboat, dumps it in the lake and returns home. Watching Swinton is an amazement. The striking British actress (Orlando, Edward II) plays this American mother as a mix of velvet and iron. Even when blackmailer Alek Spera (Goran Visnjic of ER) rubs the sodomy video in her face, Margaret takes care of her own. She even brings out a sensitive side in Alek. Visnjic invests his role with charm and a credible humanity. A lesser movie could never survive this romantic twist. But in adapting Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's novel The Blank Wall (Max Ophuls filmed the story in 1949 as The Reckless Moment with Joan Bennett as the mother and James Mason as the blackmailer), McGehee and Siegel create something uniquely their own. As in their 1993 debut feature, Suture, they blend all the elements of filmmaking — special praise to Giles Nuttgens' crisp camerawork — into a seamless whole. The Deep End springs surprises that entertain and provoke.

From The Archives Issue 228: December 16, 1976