Saturday 29 October 2022

Movie Review: The Deep End Of The Ocean (1999)

A missing child drama, The Deep End Of The Ocean explores the impacts of profound loss but dilutes into bland emotional notes.

In 1988, married couple Beth and Pat Cappadora (Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams) live in Madison, Wisconsin with their three kids Vincent (seven), Ben (three), and newborn Kerry. Beth takes the kids to her high school reunion in Chicago. In the hotel lobby she momentarily leaves the two boys alone, and Ben goes missing. The subsequent months-long investigation by Detective Candy Bliss (Whoopi Goldberg) fails to uncover any clues. The burden of guilt transforms Beth into a cold and angry wife and mother, and her marriage suffers.

Nine years later the family moves to Chicago. Beth meets 12-year-old Sam, the son of her neighbour George Karras (John Kapelos) from two blocks away, and is immediately sure that Sam is actually Ben. Candy and the police investigate to confirm the boy's identity, but reassembling the Cappadora family will be exceptionally difficult.

An adaptation of the book by Jacquelyn Mitchard, The Deep End Of The Ocean offers an intriguing premise but slipshod execution. The production values and emotional depth rarely rise above television movie-of-the-week material, and the plot machinations and character arcs are unconvincing. Nondescript friends and family members clutter the drama as colourless secondary characters, entering then exiting the stage with minimal impact. Daughter Kerry is impressively neglected into another but unintended child disappearing act.

The first half is marginally better, offering a realistic nightmare scenario of a lost child and a mother turning from calm to frantic then anguished, with Michelle Pfeiffer elevating a couple of scenes above the mundane. The warning signs starts when Stephen Schiff's script demonstrates no interest in any police work, and reduces Whoopi Goldberg's Detective Bliss to a token woman/Black/lesbian character with no other meaningful contribution.

The second half suffers from a severe lack of identity. Director Ulu Grosbard flounders within ridiculous plot gyrations and starts randomly dividing his attention among numerous characters, unable to decide on a path and achieving little more than surface scratches. Beth and Pat bicker then bicker again, Vincent (Jonathan Jackson) is now a moody teenager carrying his own guilt luggage, Ben/Sam is unsure which household he belongs to, and George, the father who raised him, suffers through no fault of his own. 

Helped by burrowed performances from Jackson and John Kapelos, Vincent and George emerge from the sidelines as the two most interesting characters, but they are not afforded time to expand because no one is. With emotional oscillations trading for a discount, The Deep End Of The Ocean wades into disappointingly shallow waters.

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