Liquid pain

Movie: The Deep End

Our Rating: 3.50

Margaret Hall is a devoted homemaker and mom -- a model of domestic efficiency who is able to manage a beautiful waterfront residence in a woodsy neighborhood of Lake Tahoe and care for three kids while her naval-officer husband is incommunicado in the South Pacific. But, in the surprising and smart noir film "The Deep End," Margaret's household routine gives way to a new task -- that of covering up a gruesome murder.

Tilda Swinton does a mesmerizing turn as Margaret, a character of great psychological intrigue, and the role is another remarkable accomplishment for the Scottish actress who first gained attention for her performance in 1992's "Orlando." In "The Deep End," she matter-of-factly goes about the grim detail of disposing of the body of a man whose death may have been caused by her 17-year-old son, Beau.

Her chilly determination is downright frightening as she struggles to shield her family from a wicked threat involving sex, lies, videotape -- and a big wad of cash demanded by two men who could implicate the boy. Margaret's cool determination soon gives way to the nagging feeling that, despite her best intentions, she may not be able to fix the crisis.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the filmmakers who share writing, directing and producing duties on "The Deep End," plumb the emotional depths of their characters in this sophisticated melodrama, adapted from Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's forgotten novel "The Blank Wall" (which also spawned Max Ophuls' 1949 film "The Reckless Moment").

As Beau, Jonathan Tucker ("The Virgin Suicides") easily embodies Margaret's musically talented teen-age son, whose secret and intimate relationship with the manipulatively seductive owner of a Reno nightclub, Darby Rees (Josh Tucker), ends with the latter's demise.

Goran Visnjic, the resident heartthrob on TV's "E.R.," strikes the right notes, too, as Alek, a tough-guy blackmailer who wants $50,000 from Margaret in the shakedown scheme. However, as he begins to sympathize with Margaret's plight, his transformation from agent of the dark side to a sort of sacrificial lamb isn't as convincing as it ought to be.

Still, "The Deep End" is an almost entirely satisfying thriller, bolstered by precise pacing, blue-chip acting, moody cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and a haunting score by Peter Nashel. This is one summer thriller that will leave you unsettled well after the final credits roll.


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