Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gazing Into the Darkness

Dark Places is a 2015 movie that, on paper, seems like it should have been a hit. It was adapted from a novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote Gone Girl. It starred Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult, hot on the heels of them both appearing in Mad Max: Fury Road. Yet the movie came and went unnoticed in a paltry number of theaters, before being dumped on home video. Often, this is a sign of a real turd of a movie. But while Dark Places is no masterpiece, I'm still a bit confused about what happened here.

The movie tells the story of Libby Day, a messed-up woman who, as a child, witnessed her mother's and two sisters' murders at the hands of her own older brother. But now, a true crime sleuther group is challenging her memories of that night, and the flawed statement she gave as a child. They claim Libby's brother is innocent of the crime, and Libby is slowly drawn into digging up the buried past.

One undeniable flaw with this film is the script. Unlike Gone Girl, which Gillian Flynn adapted herself from her novel, Dark Places is adapted by the director, Gilles Paquet-Brenner. It's not that he seriously altered the major plot points or compromised the book's themes. But he has a real tin ear for dialogue. There are painfully bad lines peppered throughout this movie. Some of the actors are good enough to muscle their way out of unintentional comedy, but some aren't. There are multiple times you find yourself thinking, "who talks like this?" Still, the story does gain some traction between these moments. The whodunit is largely compelling, and the revelation of the truth at the movie's end does seem to be a bit more "earned" than perhaps it felt in the book.

There's certainly a good cast. Charlize Theron plays the flawed, self-loathing Libby. She's good enough at expressing inner monologue that the movie's occasional voice-over often feels unnecessary. Nicholas Hoult makes his character a bit less creepy than he was on the page -- actually a good thing, when you stop to question why Libby would throw in with this guy. Christina Hendricks (from Mad Men) plays Libby's mother in flashbacks to the fateful day of the murders, a desperate and sympathetic woman. Chloƫ Grace Moretz has fun as party girl Diondra in those same flashback sequences.

I mean, to be certain, I can't imagine the person for whom this would be a "must see" movie. But it's not a total mess. And in this entertainment landscape where stories of wrongful convictions are all the rage, I can certainly imagine the person who "might want to see" this movie. I give Dark Places a B-.

No comments: