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[whitespace] 'The Deep End'
Fear of Driving: Tilda Swinton is ensnared in frightful events when she tries to protect her son in 'The Deep End.'

Succor Mom

A devoted mother gets in over her head trying to help her son in 'The Deep End'

By Nicole McEwan

IN THE ANNALS OF CINEMA there is a small but memorable category of film waiting for its own retrospective--or at least, a sidebar at a prominent festival. Falling somewhere between horror and melodrama, this group includes such classics as Mildred Pierce, The Manchurian Candidate, Psycho and Carrie. Adam Bernstein's freaky little gem Six Ways To Sunday (with Blondie's Debbie Harry in a housecoat) would be a surefire pick and the notes would be rife with quotes from Freud. Call them mommydramas, if you must. Regardless of designation, they all fall under the heading: Mothers Who Love Too Much.

The perfect centerpiece for this celebration of gritty women is The Deep End, co-directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Their last collaboration, 1993's Suture, was an annoyingly cerebral art house pic about mistaken identity. Its conceit was simple: Nothing is as it appears to be. In The Deep End, the filmmakers replay this theme, with far more palatable results. Instead of a thriller masquerading as a social tract on racism, we get a juicy little family drama about the high cost of saving face.

Tilda Swinton plays Margaret Hall, a year-round resident of Lake Tahoe and soccer mom extraordinaire. Margaret lives in elegant, if chilly, splendor with her three almost-perfect children, her doddering father and the knowledge that her station in life (she's a Navy wife) means her husband is more of an apparition than a life mate.

Like so many modern mothers, Margaret has remade nurturing into a competitive, high-stress, goal-oriented career. Her eyes are firmly on the prize. Here, that means a career in music for her teenage son, Beau, a gifted trumpet player with Juilliard-level talent.

But Beau has a little secret named Darby. A slick Reno club impresario, Darby has a taste for chicken, a.k.a. young gay men. Lately, Beau's been the blue plate special.

When Mama Bear Margaret finds out, she confronts the interloper with all the ferocity she can muster. Later, after a rendezvous with Beau, the slimeball turns up dead in Lake Tahoe, drifting peacefully in waters praised for exhibiting 12 shades of turquoise. Margaret, without skipping a beat, disposes of the body.

Here and throughout the film, Swinton's brilliantly modulated detachment provides many a mordant moment. A potential accessory to murder, Margaret carries on as though she were merely cleaning out the muck from under Beau's bed. It's a dirty job, yes. But somebody has to do it. And quick.

Sound a little far-fetched? In this deft little dose of human theater, it's not. What the Deep End really is is a noir film inverted. Instead of shadow, we get light, plus Giles Nuttgens' endless, mesmerizing shots of water. Seedy people abound, but the femme fatale dresses casual and drives an SUV.

Of course some conventions are inescapable, like the appearance of a dark stranger. Sent by Darby's mob associates, Alek, (ER's Goran Visnjic) shows up with a hardcore home video. His intention: blackmail, of course. But in a film where good intentions are already busy paving a road to hell, his motives seem quaint. In a world so upside down, even the bad guy has an identity crisis. So when The Deep End takes another of its delightfully perverse little twists, all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

The Deep End (R; 99 min.), written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, based on a story by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, photographed by Giles Nuttgens and starring Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic and Jonathan Tucker, plays at the Los Gatos Cinema in Los Gatos and at the Park in Menlo Park.

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From the August 16-22, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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