The Deep End of the Ocean (film)

The Deep End of the Ocean is a 1999 American drama film directed by Ulu Grosbard, and starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Treat Williams, Jonathan Jackson, John Kapelos, and Whoopi Goldberg. It is based on the 1996 novel of the same name by Jacquelyn Mitchard, a bestseller that was the very first novel selected by Oprah Winfrey to be discussed on Oprah's Book Club in 1996.[2] The film tells the story of a family’s reaction, when Ben, the youngest son is kidnapped and then found nine years later, living in the same town, where his family had just moved. The film was released in theaters on March 12, 1999 by Columbia Pictures, and was a box office flop, grossing $28 million worldwide.

The Deep End of the Ocean
Theatrical poster
Directed byUlu Grosbard
Produced byKate Guinzburg
Steve Nicolaides
Screenplay byStephen Schiff
Based onThe Deep End of the Ocean
by Jacquelyn Mitchard
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release date
  • March 12, 1999 (1999-03-12)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$38 million[1]
Box office$28,121,100


During her high school reunion in a crowded hotel lobby, Beth Cappadora's (Michelle Pfeiffer) 3-year-old son Ben vanishes. Police are called to the scene as a frantic search begins but it is unsuccessful, and Beth experiences a nervous breakdown. Unable to cope with her devastation, she unintentionally neglects her other children, Vincent and Kerry.

After nine years, the Cappadora family has seemingly accepted that Ben has gone forever, when a familiar-looking boy turns up at their house, offering to mow their lawn. He introduces himself as Sam, but Beth becomes convinced that he is actually Ben, and begins an investigation.

Beth discovers Ben was kidnapped at the reunion by Cecilia Lockhart, a mentally unstable woman who was an old classmate of Beth's. She brought Ben up as her own child, until she later committed suicide. The attempted reintegration of Ben back into the Cappadora family produces painful results for everyone, so Beth and her husband Pat (Treat Williams) eventually decide to return him to his adoptive father.

One night, Vincent leaves the house and Beth later wakes up to a phone call at 4am to be told he is in prison. Beth and Pat discuss his erratic behaviour with Candy Bliss (Whoopi Goldberg), a Detective in Ben's case who became a family friend, and Candy reassures her that Vincent loves her. They eventually reconcile their relationship. During the time Vincent is in prison, Beth and Pat develop relationship problems after continuous arguments, and they start sleeping in separate beds.

Days later "Sam" turns up at the Cappadora house and reveals he has remembered something from before his abduction; he was playing with Vincent and Vincent found him, which made him feel safe. Pat later bails Vincent out of prison and, one night, finds him playing basketball outside with "Sam". Vincent, who has carried guilt for not watching Ben at the reunion, letting go of his hand and telling "Sam" to get lost, is forgiven by "Sam" who then decides to go back to living with his blood family, but he first plays a game of basketball with his real brother, with Beth and Pat watching from the living room window.



According to a small behind-the-scenes booklet featured on the DVD release, the film began production on October 27, 1997 and was predominantly shot in Los Angeles. Oprah Winfrey was considered for the role of Det. Candace "Candy" Bliss before Whoopi Goldberg was cast.[3] Coincidentally, the novel in which this movie is based was the very first book selected by Winfrey to be discussed on Oprah's Book Club in 1996.[4]

Alternate ending and re-shootsEdit

A different ending was filmed which tested poorly with audiences who felt it was too grim. Despite being the original ending of the book, not to mention Michelle Pfeiffer's preferred ending, the studio opted for the more conventional happy ending.[5] Extensive rewrites and re-shoots caused the film to be delayed from its planned fall 1998 release to spring of 1999.[6]


The film was theatrically released on March 12, 1999.


The Deep End of the Ocean holds a rating of 44% on Rotten Tomatoes,[7] and a score of 45 on Metacritic,[8] indicating mixed reviews.

In The New York Times, Janet Maslin praised the director and lead actress but criticised the music: "With a fine, impassioned performance from Michelle Pfeiffer as the story's raw-nerved heroine, the film moves beyond the detective-story aspects of its material to concentrate on what kind of shock waves batter a family after an event like this... Grosbard mercifully avoids melodrama. And he paces the film so simply and determinedly that its early scenes are like a string of picture postcards, each one depicting a new phase of the family's ordeal. Only when the film seeks tidy resolution for a tangled set of problems does this restraint seem overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation. But the only real false notes are musical ones, from a score by Elmer Bernstein that turns familiar and trite when the film does not."[9]

In Variety, Emanuel Levy praised all aspects of the film: "Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams give such magnetic performances that they elevate the film way above its middlebrow sensibility and proclivity for neat resolutions... In the first reel, Pfeiffer is brilliant as an anxious mother consumed with finding her lost son. Dominating scene after scene, she conveys anguish and guilt in an all-out performance that ranks with her best... Coming from the theater, Grosbard has always coaxed strong performances from his handpicked casts, but Deep End's technical sheen places this outing at the top of his oeuvre. Stephen Goldblatt's clean lensing, Elmer Bernstein's evocative score, Dan Davis' crafty production design, Susie DeSanto's authentic costumes and, particularly, John Bloom's fluent editing serve as models for efficient storytelling, representing mainstream cinema at its best."[10]

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann commended Pfeiffer and Jackson but was ultimately unimpressed: "Pfeiffer, who segued into mother roles in her past two films, One Fine Day and A Thousand Acres, brings heart and soul to this domestic melodrama, but it's not enough. The Deep End of the Ocean has nothing but the noblest of intentions, and Grosbard's direction is meticulous, sober and tasteful, but the movie is so deliberate, so enervated that you feel as if you're watching it through glass... In a difficult role that he doesn't quite pull off, Ryan Merriman plays Sam, the 12-year-old whose allegiance is split between two homes. As his damaged older brother, Jonathan Jackson brings such confidence, maturity and self-possession that he seems to belong in another movie. And Whoopi Goldberg - all-purpose, you-got-a-part-I'll-play-it Whoopi - shows up as a helpful detective named Candy Bliss."[11]

In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers held a similar view: "The Deep End of the Ocean, from Jacquelyn Mitchard's best-selling novel about parents who find their lost son nine years after his abduction, benefits from a customarily fine performance by Michelle Pfeiffer as the boy's mother. Treat Williams excels as the husband, as does Whoopi Goldberg, a detective who helps the parents in their search. Director Ulu Grosbard (Georgia) and screenwriter Stephen Schiff (Lolita) commendably try to avoid the usual kidnapping clichés in favor of family dynamics, but the film ultimately gives in to a case of TV-movie blahs."[12]

In Entertainment Weekly, Michael Sauter also found the lead performances superior to the film as a whole: "The first half of this drama, with Pfeiffer and Williams as parents whose 3-year-old son vanishes, is almost unbearably wrenching... Far less effective, however, is the rest of the story, set nine years later, when the boy resurfaces... But if the film was less than satisfying as a big-screen event, it's still worth renting for Pfeiffer, who valiantly portrays the devastating complexities of grief and guilt."[13]

Two extremely negative reviews came from Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times and Desson Howe in the Washington Post. Ebert wrote that "Ulu Grosbard's The Deep End of the Ocean is a painfully stolid movie that lumbers past emotional issues like a wrestler in a cafeteria line, putting a little of everything on his plate. It provides big roles for Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams, but doesn't provide them with the screenplay support they need; the result is that awkwardness when characters express emotions that the audience doesn't share."[14] Howe described the "moments in The Deep End of the Ocean that will break your heart. After all, the movie – based on Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel – is about losing a child. This is, essentially, emotional blackmail for anyone with a family. Two hundred monkeys fighting over one word processor could make you cry over material like that. Yet producer/star Michelle Pfeiffer, director Ulu Grosbard and scriptwriter Stephen Schiff still mess things up. Apart from the previously mentioned occasions, and nice performances from Jonathan Jackson and Ryan Merriman, the movie's a floating longboat that ought to be ignited and pushed out to sea, Viking style."[15]


Elmer Bernstein's original score to The Deep End of the Ocean was released in 1999 by Milan Records.[16]

Track listing[17]

  1. Main Title - 5:10
  2. Brothers - 2:33
  3. Sam is Lost - 3:59
  4. Home Again - 4:13
  5. Photographs - 2:24
  6. Cecil - 2:25
  7. Giving Back - 3:05
  8. Reunion - 3:06
  9. End Credits - 3:08

Awards and nominationsEdit

Ryan Merriman won a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young Actor.[18]


  1. ^ * [1] at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2007-08-27.
  2. ^ "Oprah Book Club books - 1996 to 1997". Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  3. ^ "The Deep End of the Ocean". IMDb.
  4. ^ "Oprah Book Club books - 1996 to 1997". Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  5. ^ "The Deep End of the Ocean". IMDb.
  6. ^ "The Deep End of the Ocean". IMDb.
  7. ^ "The Deep End of the Ocean Movie Reviews, Pictures". Archived from the original on 2008-07-26. Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  8. ^ "Deep End of the Ocean, The - reviews at". Retrieved 2009-12-24.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 12, 1999). "'The Deep End of the Ocean': A Child Is Gone, and Then He Is Not".
  10. ^ Levy, Emanuel (March 1, 1999). "The Deep End of the Ocean Review".
  11. ^ Guthmann, Edward (March 12, 1999). "'Ocean' Swims in Somber Melodrama / Kidnapping story is just too virtuous".
  12. ^ Travers, Peter (April 17, 2001). "The Deep End of the Ocean : Review : Rolling Stone".
  13. ^ Sauter, Michael (August 13, 1999). "The Deep End of the Ocean / Movies /".
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 12, 1999). "The Deep End Of The Ocean :: :: Reviews".
  15. ^ Howe, Desson (March 12, 1999). "'The Deep End of the Ocean' (PG-13)".
  16. ^ "Releases". Milan Records.
  17. ^ "Discography".
  18. ^ "The Deep End of the Ocean - Awards". Retrieved 2009-12-24.

External linksEdit