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The Deep End Review

By Joe Lozito

A Mother of a Role


Tilda Swinton has one of those faces that is at once ordinary and fascinating. There is something about her features; she's a little too angular and striking to be just another girl-next-door. Likewise, her characters tend to be something more than they appear on the surface. This is particularly the case in her breakthrough role as the title character in 1992's "Orlando", which required her to swap genders midway through the film. Calling that a "breakthrough" role might be a bit premature however. While she drew the attention of critics, most moviegoers wouldn't recognize Ms. Swinton even though she played opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000's "The Beach". But, again, that's part of her allure. Every time you see her, it's like you discover something new.

As Margaret Hall in the maternal thriller "The Deep End", Ms. Swinton creates a mother with a nearly psychotic impulse to protect her children. Sadly, the film does little to support Ms. Swinton. While the direction, by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, is appropriately staid and the score is hypnotically spare, their script apparently only had room for one fully fleshed-out character.

Margaret Hall is this film's Job. From the start, her husband is taken away from her (he's a Naval officer somewhere in the Atlantic) and her oldest son is at best cordial to her. From there on the film piles on one plot point after another to make Margaret's life more difficult. Unfortunately her life is tough enough trying to prevent the police from discovering that her son may have murdered his gay lover. All this starts to come crashing down around her with the arrival of the oddest character in the film: the brooding blackmailer (ER's Goran Visnjic). Mr. Visnjic's character is such a screenwriter's fantasy - yes, he blackmails her, but he's really upset by it and kinda likes her - that it's almost impossible to take the developing relationship in the film seriously.

Thankfully, Ms. Swinton realizes that Margaret Hall is a gift of a role. This is the type of character that actresses dream of, and one wonders if Ms. Swinton didn't have to fight off Meryl Streep for the part. Indeed, Ms. Streep is the only other actress that comes to mind who could have matched the intensity and depth that Ms. Swinton brings to the role. If that isn't high praise, I don't know what is.

What did you think?

Movie title The Deep End
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary The magnetic Tilda Swinton turns in one of the best performances of the year in an otherwise melodramatic tale of one mother's harrowing attempt to protect her son from the law.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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