DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of The Deep End, Joy Ride, Training Day

 

Title: The Deep End

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 120 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  R (“hard R”; recommended for adults and mature teens; very graphic in spots)

Distributor and Production Company: Fox Searchlight; I5Films

Director; Writer: Scott McGehee and David Siegel

Based on the 1949 film The Reckless Moment (Columbia, Max Ophuls), in turn based on the story “The Blank Wall” by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Producer: Robert Nathan (Executive)

Cast:   Tilda Swinton, Jonathan Tucker, Goran Visnjic

Technical: Panavision 2.35 to 1; Digital

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:

Review: Movie Review of The Deep End

From Fox Searchlight Pictures and I5Films; written, produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel; execute producer Robert Nathan; Panavision and Digital stereo, MPAA rating: R;  8.5/10.  Also, notes about Joy Ride, Training Day

At first glance, this film looks like a formula thriller: the basic setup is that a mother (Tilda Swinton) hides a corpse to protect a family member.  In fact, it is a “remake” of the 1949 film noir The Reckless Moment, based on the novel The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding (1947). So maybe this could have been your typical studio mainstream film with high-salary stars.

 

But McGehee and Siegel are interested in their own artistic vision, and in exploring some controversial social issues.  In this case, the locus of commentary dervives from the issue of gay teenagers or “gay youth,  something that might be hard with mainstream investors and box office expectations.  Here the teen, 17-year-old Beau Hall, is played by Jonathan Tucker and comes across, after his mother, as the most “mature” and together character in the film.  He is a gifted athlete and musician and headed for college. But, he has managed to get himself into trouble, visiting gay nightclubs, getting into an accident driving home while intoxicated once, and capturing the attention of a rather creepy thrityish man and gay bar owner. The other controversy is more conventional: the underworld. In her attempt to keep the murder out of public attention, the mother falls into a blackmail scheme when visited by the thug, Goran Visnjic.

 

Now this film is set in present day in the Lake Tahoe area, and the idea that gay bars and gambling are connected to the Mafia and to blackmail seems a bit passé (even given earlier films like Casino).  I had more trouble believing this that the “plot twists” that other critics have pointed out. And some of it is a bit predictable.  Since her Naval officer husband is far at sea, Swinton’s character can fall subject to temptation, including the gradual awakening of the “charisma” of her tormnetor. 

 

But, actually, the Naval officer husband who never appears in the film, provides the real pivot for commentary.  For the mother is really not afraid of the police—her son would have an easy self-defense claim—but of her husband’s learning that her son is gay.  And here we have the hidden message: the military policy towards gays, because of the attitude that it encourages, can affect gay family members of military people.  At one point, Veau’s grandfather asks why he won’t apply to the Naval Academy—for those “in the know” a rather oblique reference to Joe Steffan’s book Honor Bound on a gay midshipman. 

 

There is a question in my mind about the legal complications of filming a story involving underage sex.  In one secondary video scene connected to the blackmail, Beau is shown being sodomized (though not with direct nudity or exposure).  It is supposedly illegal (under federal law and in many states) to depict an underage person having sex even if an adult actor is used.  (See Chapter 5 footnotes for Our Fundamental Rights for some notes on the Child Pornography Prevention Act, to be heard by the Supreme Court.) In California, the age of consent is 18, in Nevada, 16 (though 18 for same-sex acts, according to an ageofconsent,com site).

(Later Note: 8/31/2001 :  Here is a good reference on this Act: http://www.parrhesia.com/cp.html  It would appear from this analysis that an affirmative defense is provided if the speaker or distributor does not advertise the material as portraying sex by minors and if real adult actors are used.  However, Jerry Hall of Tate & Bywater raises troubling questions about state jurisdiction at http://www.tatebywater.com/features/099705.html.). The treatment of underage sex in film is hardly new. There was Todd Solondz’s Happiness in 1998, and even major studio films have portrayed underage sex (especially forced by adults) as in the 1996 Warner Brother’s film Sleepers. We could expect further political pressure on state legislatures to address this kind of issue from social conservatives in the future.

 

There is more about this (dated late 2004) at http://www.doaskdotell.com/refer/intelct.htm  (find “child pornography” in the text of this document). It seems that a film would be illegal under federal and most state laws if and only if it depicted actual genital or breast sex acts with an actual or apparent minor, which commercial films from reputable companies in reputable theaters never do (the XXX theaters and industries may be another matter….)

 

There is also a more up-to-date comment at the end of this file

http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mstudent.htm

 

McGehee and Siegel had made names for themselves with a 1986 film, Suture, a thriller about mistaken identity and race (perhaps jumping on the previous generation’s idea of “passing” for a different race to “get along”), filmed in black and white Panavision.

 

The interest in this film though is going to be with the agents and new filmmakers getting into the business.  How do you balance your own artistic vision or social commentary with storytelling?  Screen agents, like literary agents, look hard at the basics of plot, characterization, dialogue, rooting interest.  These elements are strong in this film.  The dialogue is often appropriately sparse, replaced by progressive action and body language. And this film is indeed an effective thriller, complete with stunning scenery and a mesmerizing music score by Peter Nashel. But social issues have been successfully explored with rather conventional plot formulas in bigger films, ranging from American Beauty to the non-fiction stories Erin Brokovich and The Insider. Indeed, this film shows a woman overcoming “all odds” just like the heroine of Erin. But perhaps the thriller genre gives the writer a chance to make statements about several issues in one film and to link them together.  This film at least starts that.

 

There is a full-studio film (2001) from 20th Century Fox, Joy Ride, with Paul Walker and Steve Zahn (dir. John Dahl, R, 97 min), that enjoys the same narrative edginess as The Deep End.  Here, a rather clean-cut college student played by Walker tries to keep his jailbird older brother in line, but accidentally stumbles into a trucker terrorist with a harmless prank (pretending to be a “chick” named Candy Cane) played with a cb radio.  The film is particularly timely now, and it’s good (as with Columbia’s Glass House) to see Hollywood putting role model young people against the bad guys.  It’ll get the teenager to show up, and this film should be PG-13, not R.  The final sequence is quite stunning in its destruction.  There is one scene, where the two brothers are running out of gas near Laramie, Wyoming, where a highway memorial for Matthew Shepard is briefly shown.

 

Another thriller along the same lines – clean cut youth (this time a young undercover policeman played by Texas author Ethan Hawke) against evil as Training Day, (2001, Warner Bros/Outlaw, dir. Antoine Faqua) where Denzel Washington plays the corrupt cop.  In the real world, the line between good and evil are probably not so stark.  Village Roadshow Pictures has been busy.

 

 

Related reviews: Edge of 17; L.I.E., Nico and Dani, Happiness, Sleepers

 

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