Beth Cappadora (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her husband Pat (Treat Williams) experience a parent's worst fear when their 3-year-old son Ben vanishes in a crowded hotel lobby during Beth's high school reunion. The ensuing frantic search is unsuccessful, and Beth goes through a sustained nervous breakdown. Unable to cope with her devastation, Beth unintentionally neglects her other children, Vincent (Jonathan Jackson) and Kerry (Alexa Vega).
After nine years, the family has seemingly accepted that Ben has gone forever, when a familiar-looking boy (Ryan Merriman) turns up at their house, introducing himself as Sam and offers to mow their lawn. Beth is convinced that Sam is actually her son, and begins an investigation that culminates in the discovery that Ben was kidnapped at the ill-fated high school reunion years ago, by a mentally unstable woman who was a high school classmate of Beth's. This woman brought up Ben as her own child, until she committed suicide. The attempted re-integration of Ben back into the Cappadora family produces painful results for all involved.
Eventually, the family decides that what's best for Ben is to return him to his adoptive father, and Beth returns him to his house. One night, Vincent leaves the house and Beth wakes up to a phone call at 4 in the morning to find out Vincent is in prison. Candy, Beth and Pat speak about whether Vincent's actions are taking it too far, and while Beth is entering the visitor area, she speaks to Candy whether Vincent hates her or not, and Candy reassures her he loves her. After speaking with him during visitor hours, she reveals a man's car was totaled and Vincent could've died because of what he did, which leads to the conclusion Vincent was drunk driving. They hold hands and reconcile their mother and son relationship. During the days Vincent is in prison, Beth and Pat develop relationship problems and start sleeping in separate beds, after arguing about what Pat sees of their future, Vincent and Ben, and whether he loves her or not. Another visitor appears days later and it's Sam, mostly known as Ben and he reveals that he remembered something from before his abduction, playing with Vincent and Vincent finding him, causing him to feel safe. After Pat bailing Vincent, one night Vincent finds Sam playing basketball outside. Vincent, who has carried guilt for letting go of Ben at the reunion, is forgiven by Ben who decides to return to living with his real family, but first plays a game of basketball with his brother with their parents secretly watching from their bedroom window.Michelle Pfeiffer as Beth Cappadora
Treat Williams as Pat Cappadora
Whoopi Goldberg as Det. Candy Bliss
Jonathan Jackson as Vincent Cappadora - Age 16
Cory Buck as Vincent Cappadora - Age 7
Ryan Merriman as Ben Cappadora/Sam Karras - Age 12
Michael McElroy as Ben Cappadora - Age 3
Alexa Vega as Kerry Cappadora - Age 9
Michael McGrady as Jimmy Daugherty
Brenda Strong as Ellen
Tony Musante as Grandpa Angelo
Rose Gregorio as Grandma Rosie
John Kapelos as George Karras
Lucinda Jenney as Laurie
John Roselius as Chief Bastokovich
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. Candy Bliss before Whoopi Goldberg was cast. 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.
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 producer Michelle Pfeiffer's preferred ending, the studio opted for the more conventional happy ending. Extensive rewrites and re-shoots caused the film to be delayed from its planned fall 1998 release to spring of 1999. According to the booklet previously mentioned, the film premiered on March 12, 1999.
The Deep End of the Ocean holds a rating of 42% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 45 on Metacritic, 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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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." 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."
Elmer Bernstein's original score to The Deep End of the Ocean was released in 1999 by Milan Records. Unfortunately the album only includes cues of certain scenes while the rest of the score remains unreleased or incomplete, such as Sam's conversation with Beth in the graveyard or Beth's conversation with Vincent in the penitentiary among others.
- Main Title 5:10
- Brothers 2:33
- Sam is Lost 3:59
- Home Again 4:13
- Photographs 2:24
- Cecil 2:25
- Giving Back 3:05
- Reunion 3:06
- End Credits 3:08
Ryan Merriman won a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young Actor.