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Non-Review Review: The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

The Deep Blue Sea has two reasonably solid leading performances and some nice enough direction, but it suffers because it can’t convince us to are about any of its central characters. We don’t have to like any of the three characters involved in the central love-affair, but there does have to be some hook that grabs us and convinces us to emotionally engage and invest in this post-War exploration of several broken characters. That connection simply isn’t there, and the rest of the movie collapses as a direct result of that absence.

Yeah, she wants to dance with somebody…

The Deep Blue Sea seems to try to establish itself as something of an “anti-romance”, built around destroying a lot of the illusions that films harbour about the what love actually is, and about how it is expressed. It opens with an attempted suicide, something that has been a sad part of romantic fantasy ever since Romeo & Juliet, if not ever. Hesther, our lead character, finds herself distraught as she’s caught between two men, trying to figure out what exactly love happens to be.

At one point in the film, she finds an answer – although it’s hardly the answer she might have expected. It has none of the romance that we associate with love stories. “A lot of rubbish is talked about love,” Hester is informed, in a rather matter-of-fact manner. “You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s ass, or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves, and letting ’em keep their dignity so you can both go on. Suicide? No one’s worth it.”

She’s made her bed…

Hester finds herself having an affair, but it’s almost immediately clear that she loves him more than he loves her – perhaps appropriately, given the film hints that her husband loves her more than she loves him. “But how in the name of reason can you go on loving a man who can give you nothing?” her husband demands at one point. Hester counters, “Oh, but he does give me something – from time to time.” It is quite tragic, or it would be, if we cared about Hester.

It is a nice idea, and a solid foundation for a film, but The Deep Blue Seanever manages to get us to care about whether any of its characters actually learn the lesson. Rachel Weisz does a great job with the material provided, but even her confused and emotional performance aren’t enough to prevent Hester from seeming incredibly dull and boring. The film never gets us to buy into Hester’s romantic fantasies, so we don’t feel too bad when they are brutally dismantled. In order for the film’s examination of the pragmatic realities of love to work, it needs to adequately explore or at least set up the romantic myth that it seeks to demolish.

I’ll drink to that…

The entire film is as heavy and as sombre as its view of love, so – unsurprisingly – there’s no passion to be found. This prevents lines from hitting home like they should. There’s one pointed exchange between Hester and her mother in law that should seem more substantial, but the movie delivers it in the most tired fashion possible. “Beware of passion, Hester,” her husband’s mother advises her, “it always leads to something ugly.” Hester responds, “What would you replace it with?” Her mother-in-law suggests, in a stiff-upper-lip sort of way, “A guarded enthusiasm. It’s safer.”

Hester counters, “But much duller.”Naturally, the whole scene is as lifeless as it might imagine – we can’t really care about the conflict between Hester’s romanticism and the world’s pragmatism because the war has been won long before the title of the film even appears on-screen. As ever, Weisz does solid work in the role, but it’s up to her co-star to try to inject life into a film that is comatose on arrival and rapidly deteriorating. Hiddleston, as ever, does great work here as the charismatic ascot-wearing Freddie.

Steady Freddie…

Like Weisz is hampered by the film’s rather dull aesthetic, Hiddleston finds himself saddled with the most cliché British cad I’ve seen in quite some time. In case you didn’t get the film’s setting and context, one of his first lines clumsily establishes both. “I survived the Battle of Britain, old fruit, old darling!” With his sharp fashion sense and theatrically exaggerated Britishness, Freddie almost seems like a parody of Britishness – to the point where he’d almost seem offensive if he weren’t in a British film.

Freddie stops just short of punctuating his dialogue with “I say”, and his admittedly stylish ascot is only less conspicuous than a moustache and a monocle. “We were doing something important for dear old Blightey!” he explains, later stating, “Just back from giving Gerry a good old thrashing, sir!” It’s hardly the best of roles, but Hiddleston does a tremendous job. The film can’t be bothered trying to convince us of what Hester sees in Freddie, so Hiddleston tries his hardest.

A window into romance…

That frequently involves chowing down on the scenery, but it’s the only thing that keeps the movie alive at points. After one row in the national gallery, Hester asks him, “Where are you going?” Freddie responds, with Hiddleston picking pieces of the set from between his teeth, “To the IMPRESSIONISTS!” It might sound like I’m being a bit insincere, but I mean that as a complement. Hiddleston does far more scenery-chewing here than he did in Thor or The Avengers, and he manages to give the otherwise drowsy movie a bit of energy, even if he does struggle to get us to care about anything that is happening.

Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography documents all this quite well – and the film looks relatively nice. That said, there’s a hint of grain in some of the darker scenes, though that could just be my copy. On the other hand, Samuel Barber’s score suffers quite a bit from trying to overwhelm the film – in a way, Barber’s score feels far more emotional than anything happening on screen, and it manages to drown out any real attempt by the actors to find the film’s emotional core.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door…

The Deep Blue Sea is a reasonably well-constructed exploration of the distance that can exist between love and romance. However, it has a very tough time convincing the audience why they should care.

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