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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Deep End

by on March 23, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Deep End”
Rated R

A British actress unafraid either to get naked while straddling gender lines or litter her resume with literary sci-fi and performance art where she feigned sleep for a week.

No wonder few heard of Tilda Swinton until the actress picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Michael Clayton.” But she should’ve contended for it long before, with 2001’s “The Deep End.”

This film noir with nary a gun asks what’s left once unexpected brutality enters a family’s equation. Here, it’s a series of predatory advances on a teenager, extortion and accusations of murder — a hamper of dirty laundry that Swinton’s stay-at-home mom Margaret Hall must handle.

Her son Beau’s dalliance with Darby (Josh Lucas), a nightclub-running sleaze, has blinded him to a bright future. So it’s morbid wish fulfillment when Margaret finds Darby’s body washed up on the shore behind their Lake Tahoe home. Enter Alex (Goran Visnjic), threatening to release evidence that implicates Beau in the murder unless Margaret pays $50,000 to him and his partner (to whom Darby owed money).

Alec has never shaken down someone so straitlaced as Margaret, and a solely emotional romance develops — tied into Margaret’s struggle with her naval-commander husband’s constant absence.

Margaret doesn’t throw punches, just rolls with them. Some of her actions can’t be objectively condoned. But through a maternal prism, Swinton makes sure they’re understood. She’s played a man who became a woman and yet her skills are sly enough to register most strongly in the most ordinary of parts.