Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat
Directors:  Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  101 Minutes
Release Date:  April 16, 2002

“I want you to stay away from my son.”

Film ***1/2

God bless the sanctity of motherhood.  We may never understand what gives a mother her instincts to nurture and protect, but if not for them, we wouldn’t have The Deep End, one of the most intelligent and well-crafted thrillers to come along in many a season.

That mother is Margaret Hall (played to perfection by Tilda Swinton), a woman who’s practically a single parent with three kids to take care of while their father is away in the Navy.  As the picture opens, she makes a visit to a seedy looking nightclub called The Deep End to warn the owner to stay away from her son for reasons that become apparent very quickly.

Complications ensue…the man ends up dead on their property.  Margaret jumps to the most explicable but wrong conclusion.  She begins the process of protecting her son Beau (Tucker) in a series of memorable sequences where she tries to think of everything.  She can’t bring herself to ask her son the most important question…did he do it?

Soon, a stranger appears in their lives.  His name is Alek Spera (Visnjic), and he too has the wrong idea in mind.  He has evidence that will look bad against Beau.  He wants $50,000 by the next day to keep it out of the hands of the police.

I’m deliberately being vague here…this movie is rich in satisfying surprises and turns, and to give too much away would be criminal.  Best of all, not all of the twists are dramatic jolts…some are simply quietly unexpected moments.  Like when Alek returns to the Hall residence and finds a crisis…his subsequent actions might suggest he’s not a man who enjoys turning the screws.

The film is anchored by Swinton’s performance as a strong, capable woman who doesn’t fall to pieces under duress.  She is a mother first and foremost, and being a mother doesn’t stop for anything.  Scenes in which she helps juggle her kids’ schedules and her father-in-law’s needs while at the same time trying to come up with an obscene amount of cash in a short time inspire admiration and awe.  I think I was coming apart more watching her in her moments than she was in experiencing them!

Also noteworthy is Goran Visnjic as Alek…his is a complex character in its own right.  Personally, I liked that both his performance and the script allowed Alek to serve as more than a catalyst, but as a morally ambiguous factor as well.

Creators Schott McGehee and David Siegel are great storytellers, but more importantly, they are cinematic storytellers.  Comfortable craftsmen with the scope ratio at their disposal, the way they fill the screen with information is both stylish and in service of the narrative.  Their sense of timing and pacing keep their movie elevated to an almost Hitchcockian level of character-driven suspense.

If the film has one flaw, and it seems like a minor one…it’s that things resolve just a little too neatly at the end.  A story that has faith in its basic human complexities shouldn’t try to tidy up too much in the stretch run.  Given the journey to that point, though, this misstep is highly forgivable.

For the most part, I was simply impressed at how smart and real the story seemed.  Too many thrillers these days are just too clever for their own good.  This is a film with brains, respect for its characters, and a sense of truth about how we might behave under duress.  The Deep End satisfies…if not completely, at least to a higher level than any suspense movie in recent years.

Video ****

Kudos to Fox for an exemplary anamorphic transfer…The Deep End is impressive from start to finish.  Both well-lit scenes and darker, moodier ones come across with great detail and integrity.  Images are sharply rendered, colors are natural looking and well contained, and there are no noticeable instances of grain or break-up to scar the visuals.  A first rate effort all around.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 audio is quite good, given that this is a picture mostly driven by dialogue.  There are a handful of scenes on the road or in the water where front and rear stages open up nicely for a full and well balanced listening experience.  The .1 channel serves these sequences, as well as the musical cues.  Most dialogue is on the front stage, and it’s cleanly rendered throughout.  Dynamic range comes from a few potent sequences as well.

Features ***1/2

The disc starts with a commentary track by writers/producers/directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel.  There are two featurettes:  a very short promotional one, and a longer, better and more in depth Sundance Channel “Anatomy of a Scene” special.  Rounding out is a trailer, a TV spot, and a stills gallery.


The Deep End is an intelligent and engrossing thriller driven by two strong and unforgettable lead characters, brought to life by two stellar performances.  It’s a stylish, thoughtful film about dealing with crises…both natural ones, and ones of our own making.  It may be the closest to a true Hitchcock picture as we’ve had in quite some time…recommended.