Off the deep end

Brilliant mystery novel adaptation set at Lake Tahoe

TROUBLE IN TAHOE Actress Tilda Swinton gives a memorable performance in the stylish, psychological thriller, <i>The Deep End</i>, at the El Rey.

TROUBLE IN TAHOE Actress Tilda Swinton gives a memorable performance in the stylish, psychological thriller, The Deep End, at the El Rey.

Rated 5.0

The Deep End is set at (and sometimes in) Lake Tahoe, but the depths of the title have to do with much more than that famously deep body of water. This is a smart, stylish thriller in which a handful of ordinary-seeming people get extraordinarily in over their heads, morally and otherwise. A convoluted set of misfortunes creates a relentless sort of low-key suspense here, but the emotional and dramatic stakes are much heightened by “special circumstances” that prevail throughout—this is a crime story in which doing something good almost always means doing something bad as well.

The central figure in all this is Margaret (Tilda Swinton), an energetic mother of three bright children and head of a thriving Tahoe City household (the husband and father is a naval officer on duty overseas). The eldest son (Jonathan Tucker) is a gifted high school senior who is having a problematical relationship with an unsavory club owner from Reno, and that’s where the trouble starts.

None of the troubles in The Deep End are simple, however, and that’s where the story gets really interesting. When Margaret discovers the club owner’s corpse beneath the dock on her waterfront property, she thinks only of protecting her son and disposes of the body in a remote cove. And before she can find out whether or not her son may have killed the man, another underworld character, a gloomy young man named Alec (Goran Visnjic), visits her with a disturbing videotape for which he wants $50,000 in blackmail money.

The blackmailer, as it turns out, has problems of his own, including a domineering partner named Nagle (Raymond Barry), and by the time Margaret and Alec have formed a precarious and decidedly temporary alliance, everybody in the movie is, in a manner of speaking, off the deep end.

Bay Area filmmakers Scott McGehee and David Siegel make all of this emerge vividly and neatly from Tahoe’s combined social milieux of California suburbanites and Nevada casinos. Swinton, Visnjic and Tucker all give excellent performances in roles that put a special premium on unspoken (and sometimes unspeakable) recognitions.

McGehee and Siegel, whose previous film is the distinctive Suture, have adapted this tale from an Elisabeth Sanxay Holding novel, which was also the basis for Reckless Moment, a fine 1949 film by a major director (Max Ophuls). The Ophuls film is still one of the best of its period, but The Deep End matches it in nearly every way and may even surpass it—a rare case of a “remake” improving on an already mature original.

The film’s run at the El Rey ends tonight, Oct. 4, but chances are good that it will show up soon at the Pagaent.

Outré rock

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch is John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of his Off-Broadway play of the same name, but it so much visual pizzazz that you could easily believe this flamboyantly eccentric production was conceived for the movies right from the get-go.

Mitchell is writer, director, and star for this patently outlandish enterprise, and the highly accomplished onscreen results indicate a first-rate talent in all three capacities. All of that becomes even more striking once you know that Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical, a mini-opera, about a female impersonator (Mitchell), a rather rollicking musical comedy in which the protagonist (Hedwig, from East Berlin) is a transsexual fronting a low-rent glam-rock band. The band is touring chain restaurants in the U.S. and tracking one Tommy Gnosis, a punkish teen idol who is Hedwig’s former lover and band mate.

Mitchell’s Hedwig is a cross between David Bowie and Farrah Fawcett, with a touch of Iggy Pop, and the band is called the Angry Inch, partly owing to a botched sex-change operation. Raunchy gender-bending comedy and campy, hard-driving glam-rock are the order of the day and night, with Mitchell’s Hedwiggian monologues alternating with funny, spectacularly designed musical numbers.

Hedwig’s routines are often very funny, and the music offers comic delights of its own. The zesty visual design in Mitchell’s direction helps make it all a surprisingly pleasing experience. I think it’s the best rock movie since The Commitments.