September 13, 2001

Deeply Engaging

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The Deep End is a remarkable insight into illicit relationships that go awry and the steps that people will take to withhold evidence of them. Aside from the fact that the film’s basic plot structure is that of a formulaic murder mystery, the impeccable selection of details more than compensates for this shortcoming.

On the surface, Beau Hall (Jonathan Tucker) has the perfect American life: he’s intelligent, musical, athletic, comes from a good family, and lives on the beautiful Lake Tahoe shore. There is something deeper, however, that makes his life unbearably awkward: he’s queer.

Given that they reside in conservative Placer County, and that his father is in the military and has the associated demeanor, it makes perfect sense that Beau would go to vice-oriented Reno for sexual experimentation. The differences between decaying Reno and pristine Lake Tahoe only amplifies the “moral” disparity between the two places. Reno is where Beau discovers “The Deep End,” a gay bar, and, more importantly, its owner Darby Reese (Josh Lucas).

When Darby’s body is found in the middle of the lake near the Hall’s home, Beau’s Margaret finds herself in the middle of a complex extortion plot. Unfortunately, Darby owed a lot of money, his creditors had evidence of his affair with Beau, and they were willing to blackmail for their money.

This film exemplifies how large a problem lack of communication can be. Both Beau and Margaret take enormous risks, and potentially endanger others, because of justified fears. This issue is never really resolved in the movie, which proves to be both frustrating and full of symbolic meaning.

The film never reveals whether or not Beau is actually a willing victim. Although Beau is technically underage, he not only consents to Darby’s advances, but also makes an effort to see him. On the other hand, Darby exploits his youthful innocence and betrays his trust. Nevertheless, the extortion plot helps focus the film on Margaret’s intense struggles and pushes Beau into the background. This did not detract greatly from the film, though it would have been nice if Beau’s character were better developed.

The characters come across as convincingly natural given the circumstances. This is accomplished through small bodily gestures, as well as line delivery. This is one of the few murder mysteries where the quality of acting actually makes a positive contribution to the storyline.

Sundance was correct in giving this film the award for “Best Cinematography” (2001). The flashback sequences, coupled with some good scene transitions, work well to keep the viewer attentive and interested.

Be forewarned that this film contains violence and sexual content that may be offensive. If you’re not put off by these prospects and looking to get away from campus to see a rare gem of a murder mystery, then venture into The Deep End.

Archived article by Louis Benowitz