Plot Holes: The Deep End

Plot Holes is an occasional feature pointing out narrative lapses in the movies. Today’s entry gives away crucial bits of The Deep End.

In a summer of lackluster blockbusters, The Deep End has emerged as a critics’ favorite. (“The best American movie of the year” raved David Denby in The New Yorker, well aware that his quote would go straight into ad copy.) Deservedly so: Tilda Swinton turns in a coolly agonized performance as a mother trying to protect her teen-age son from being charged with a murder he may not have committed, and Goran Visnjic—her cute, oddly empathetic blackmailer—is almost as adept at acting tormented. But as thrillers go, The Deep End is far from “stunningly tight” (Premiere).

Even thumbs-up critics have harped on one scene for its faulty logic. After discovering her son’s dead boyfriend, Darby Reese (Josh Lucas), on the shore by her house, Swinton’s Margaret does what any mother would do: put the corpse in a motorboat and prepare to dump it in vast Lake Tahoe. But she picks a secluded, yet very shallow cove, where the body is certain to be found. Actually, this move isn’t egregiously illogical. Clearly, Margaret’s not in a very solid frame of mind. And arguably she’s worried about being seen in open water throwing something suspicious overboard. All of this takes place in early morning, but one never knows how many bored bird-watchers are out there with high-powered binoculars.

If only the rest of the movie were as explicable. Shortly after the body’s discovered, Alex (Visnjic) shows up with a videotape of Margaret’s son, Beau, and his lover having sex and demands $50,000 in hush money. Yet Alex and his partner turn out to be rather inept criminals—they simply don’t know how to blackmail effectively. They are almost completely unfamiliar with the Halls’ financial situation, and they give Margaret an impossibly short time to deliver. What’s the point of blackmailing someone if it’s near impossible for them to actually pay you? Wouldn’t you bother to find out ahead of time if they had the money?

Plus, the videotape may not be worth all that much in the first place. Even if it didn’t exist, it’s likely that the police—who initially arrest someone else for the murder but seem like they’re going to release him—would eventually end up at Margaret’s doorstep. Beau’s relationship with Darby was hardly a secret. In fact, it’s odd that the authorities don’t already know about it: In a flashback scene, we learn that Beau got into a spectacular car accident while driving drunk—with Darby, even drunker, in the passenger seat. There are cops all over the accident scene; surely one will make the connection.

Darby and Beau also hung out together at Darby’s club in Reno. Margaret even shows up there, rather noticeably, to demand that he stay away from her child. At some point, Darby’s friends and employees would certainly mention this to investigators (who would also probably take a look at the dead man’s phone records; early on in the movie he calls Beau at home). Margaret may have kept the cops at bay for a while, but she and Beau are still heading toward deep trouble.