The Deep End of the Ocean is the type of tragic drama that is most often seen as a TV movie-of-the-week. Based on Jacquelyn Mitchard’s novel, it paints a stark, depressing picture, and adds a glimmer of hope intermingled with a tough moral decision. The result is choppy at times, moving at others, yet never offers anything mandating a trip to the theater.
In 1988, Beth and Pat (Michelle Pfieffer and Treat Williams) had a seemingly “perfect” life. However, that life crumbles down around them in an instant. In a crowded hotel lobby, Beth loses track of her three year old son, Ben…and he is gone.
In the nine years which follow, their entire family must learn to cope with the grief. Beth is the most obviously pain-stricken, but her older son, Vincent (played by Cory Buck and Jonathan Jackson) is extremely hard hit, retreating into a shell of rebelliousness.
And then, a miracle occurs…or does it? Beth notices that a neighbor boy, Sam Karras (Ryan Merriman), looks an awful lot like her missing son. But his single father, George (John Kapelos), doesn’t seem to be a kidnapper. Is she mistaken about one, or both, of them? If she is right, what should be done?
The pacing of The Deep End of the Ocean feels obviously condensed. Each scene is connected, but rarely seems to flow with the ones fore and aft. The experience is not unlike reading every other chapter in a book. The gist of the story is there, but so is a feeling that something is missing.
The film paints its way straight into a corner. The moral morass demands that, whatever the outcome, it won’t be a happy one. And yet, impossibly, and implausibly, the film tidies things up too neatly.
The performances are good throughout, although Whoopi Goldberg seems to be misused as a police investigator. The strongest performance in the film comes from John Kapelos, as Sam’s father. In a few simple scenes, he is able to create a character both sympathetic and memorable.
The Deep End of the Ocean does have its emotional moments. What film about losing a child would be complete without them? But, you expect a little bit more from a film at the cinema. Truth be told, The Deep End of the Ocean is not much different from the run-of-the-mill crisis-bound tearjerker that you’ll find every week on television. This one will wait for video.