Tag Archives: Sam Levinson

Love Is a Battlefield

Deep Water

by George Wolf

Adrian Lyne hasn’t directed a movie in twenty years. It’s been twice that long since the 1957 source novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) has been adapted for the big screen.

They’re both back with a new vision for Deep Water, a sometimes frustrating erotic thriller that can never fully capitalize on all of its possibilities to be either erotic or thrilling.

Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas) are living a life of luxury in New Orleans with their young daughter Trixie (the incredibly cute Grace Jenkins). Vic developed a computer chip used for drone warfare, so his days of early retirement are mainly filled with watching Melinda openly flaunt her affairs at parties.

When one of Melinda’s past lovers turns up dead, Vic lets her latest boy toy (Brendan Miller) know that he’s the murderer. But Vic is only trying to scare the kid away, right? Neighbor Don (Tracy Letts with another standout supporting turn) is suspicious early on, and when another of Melinda’s lovers (Euphoria‘s Jacob Elordi) drowns at a pool party, plenty of others are looking at Vic as the prime suspect.

Screenwriters Zach Helm and Sam Levinson provide Lyne with undercurrents of subtext that are never fully explored. We assume Vic doesn’t want to subject Trixie or his finances to a messy divorce, but the deeper we dig, it’s clear this marital arrangement is feeding some need for both parties and fostering a concerning worldview for their child. Lyne showcases the aimless privilege of their daily lives to hint at a lesson on the rot of wealth, then pivots, often to Vic’s creepy but uneventful hobby of raising snails.

And though Lyne has made his name on the steamy sexual politics of 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Unfaithful, there’s more smoke here than fire. And water, water everywhere.

You won’t notice grand chemistry between Affleck and de Armas, which is a credit to both. This is a marriage of psychological warfare, and it is Vic and Melinda’s contrasting plans of attack that keep us invested, especially in the early going. De Armas embodies the cruelly uninhibited as well as Affleck brings the condescending and calculated, which is a major reason the major twist to Highsmith’s original ending works as well as it does.

For these two, it feels right.

But only for a moment, because strangely, Lyne doesn’t let it linger. Instead, he quickly cuts from the credits to a performance from the adorable Jenkins singing along to a cheery pop ditty from the 1970s.

If it’s an attempt at chilling humor, it falls hard, becoming another anchor weighing down Deep Water just when it starts cruising.

Tragedy Purge

Assassination Nation

by Hope Madden

What if a rich white man reclaimed Salem, Mass for ostracized and victimized women by creating an outrageous, violent yarn about our out-of-control, whatever world?

In the case of Sam (son of Barry) Levinson’s latest, a cross between Tragedy Girls and The Purge, the result is the self-conscious, self-righteous and sloppy Assassination Nation.

A cautionary tale about online living, social media saturation, toxic masculinity, mob mentality, rape culture…I’m sorry—where was I? A lot. Levinson’s film is mad about a lot of stuff. And it will empower young women, mainly by filming them braless and wearing shorts that are bound to cause a yeast infection.

Four high school besties (Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra) find themselves unsure if they will survive the night once a hacker shares half the town’s digital secrets with the world. What follows is a vibrant, kinetic spectacle that deserves note if only for its raucous attention to basically anything and everything that might make a teenage girl feel violently self-righteous.

All of it’s empty, of course: lurid and stylish, pseudo-feminist and pretend-woke. Like the opening sequence “trigger warning,” the film promises something it lacks the spine to deliver.

Here’s the point, if there is one: the perils of high school are more horrifying than they were a generation ago. Hell, they’re probably twice as bad as they were two years ago. But high school kids are just as idiotic, self-absorbed, naïve and insecure as they ever were, so things are going badly.

But rather than empathize or provide insight, Assassination Nation offers exploitation and voyeurism. It’s one of those things you can try to get away with by passing it off as culturally relevant, zeitgeist embracing irony. That’s a tactic that might work if you aren’t just cribbing from two more clever and socially aware films where characters wear bras.