Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea

Rachel Weisz turns in her most feeling performance yet in Terence Davies’ “The Deep Blue Sea,” an exceedingly simple yet powerfully poignant postwar story of romantic love so intense and obsessive it becomes the undoing of an intelligent and well-provided-for woman. Weisz’s Hester Collyer is the wife of a respected judge (Simon Russell Beale), but passion has escaped the marriage; he’s sober and undemonstrative, she’s headstrong and ahead of her time, and in need of an outlet for her pent-up sexuality. When that outlet arrives in the form of Freddie, a handsome young RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston), and their affair is inevitably discovered, Hester leaves her uncomprehending husband, explaining without any cruelty that her love for this new man encompasses nothing less than the whole of her. As her world narrows down to him, though, Freddie begins to suffocate, turning to drink and nights out with friends to escape.

There’s not much more plot than that to “The Deep Blue Sea,” and there’s even less sunlight. It recalls Pauline Kael’s review of Clint Eastwood’s Charlie Parker biopic “Bird,” in which she wrote that Eastwood must have forgotten to pay his ConEd bill. In the darkness of this movie, the glare from an iPhone half the theater away could make you squint with the white-hot intensity of a hundred flaming suns. Even painting with a muted palette, though, Davies crafts some beautiful images, occasionally recalling the sumptuous look of Woody Allen’s drama “Another Woman.”

It takes courage to make an earnest, deeply felt movie about nothing more complicated than love, though uncomplicated does not mean Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play is without depth or subtlety. It’s up to the cast to bring out the layers of emotion, and Beale and Weisz in particular are up to the task. Beale’s a marvel of British delicacy as William Collyer, a loving and forgiving man who can’t understand that his wife would abandon their marriage and her station in society for a love that, while at first fully requited, is no longer reciprocated in full measure. The movie, though, belongs to Weisz, who brooks no animus toward William – she continues to like him, so very much – but insists she is helpless to countermand her feelings.

Some of the feelings the movie evokes are quite raw. Have you felt so strongly about someone that you would say anything to get them to stay with you? That you felt you – smart, sensible you – didn’t know what you might do if they left you alone for the night? If so, “The Deep Blue Sea” may leave a lump in your throat as it did in mine.

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