The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2011)
Every review I have read of Terence Davies’ 2011 effort The Deep Blue Sea has singled out the performance of Rachel Weisz. Deservedly so; Weisz comes as close to carrying this movie as she possibly can. Unfortunately, one performance does not a movie make, and there is far too much else going on here, most of it mediocre at best, to even be able to sit back and enjoy Weisz’ performance, which probably should have netted her another Oscar nomination. Yes, she is that good. The film, however, is not. That this is a remake of Anatole Litvak’s 1955 weepie of the same name (with Vivien Leigh in the role Weisz reprises here) should probably cause me to cut the film some slack, but somehow it doesn’t.
Plot: Hester Collyer (Weisz, an Oscar winner for The Constant Gardner) is a woman seemingly bent on self-destruction. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a barrister (My Week with Marilyn‘s Simon Russell Beale), whose overbearing mother (Philomena‘s Barbara Jefford) typifies everything that is wrong with Stiff-Upper-Lip-Britdom, Hester flees into the arms of her husband’s opposite, an impecunious chap named Freddie Page (Thor‘s Tom Hiddleston) whose glory days came during World War II and who is attempting to live off them. He can provide Hester with passion and little else, while her husband, Sir William, can do the opposite. Problem is, Hester is desperately unhappy with Freddie, but is unwilling to accept the contentment of her marriage. Thus, in the opening scene, she has decided to take her own life. Or did she really? The doctor who examines her after the fact condemns the attempt as ridiculous. This question, ultimately, drives the film; does Hester really want to die?
Weisz, as noted, plays the role to the hilt. And I realize this is about as YMMV a judgment as someone can pronounce on a movie, but there it is: that role did not ring true to me, not for one single frame of this movie. It might have played in the age of the weepie, but really, weren’t we beyond sexual hysteria as a psychological diagnosis even in the fifties? Hester is a doormat, but she’s a doormat with escape options. That she buries her head in the sand, and digs deeper every time those escape options are presented to her, does not inspire pathos, and it certainly does not inspire sympathy. Rather, by halfway through the movie she was inspiring the same extreme annoyance in me that she was in Freddie. That wshe was making me root for the gas to win is testament to Weisz’ acting ability, but it doesn’t say much for the movie as a whole. ** ½