Dark Places: Charlize Theron and Bleak Americana From Gillian Flynn


Charlize Theron as Libby Day

From the pen of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn; Dark Places, starring Charlie Theron,  gives us a slice of Americana that is indeed dark and very bleak. Where the dream has soured and affected all who dared to believe in it. A brother and sister who lived through a horrendous childhood event meet up years later after each have paid a price for their past lies.

It appears that Flynn’s books are made to be adapted for the cinema. The 2014 adaptation of Gone Girl was an award winning film that impressed all who saw it, it also proved that Rosamund Pike is one hell of an actress and that even Ben Affleck can look like a murderer in the right light.

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who also wrote the screenplay, Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day, the only other survivor from the 1985 Kansas City massacre of her family (her brother Ben – in prison for the murders for 28 years being the other).  12 year-old Libby climbed out a window on the fateful night of the slaughter and then follows suggestions from the local police that her brother committed the murders.

Years later an emotionally scarred Libby is out of money in a community out of good will. She gets a letter from a true crime club, called “Kill Club,” who want her to appear as a guest at their next convention. She meets entrepreneur and club owner Lyle Wirth. After she arrives, Libby learns that the club’s “solver” group want to prove her brother’s innocence.

This is an actor’s film. From Dan Hewitt Owens as retired cop Robert reading off the details of the crime at the Kill Club to Chloë Grace Moretz as the pregnant devil worshipping rich girl, this movie’s performers deliver, in spades. Nicolas Hoult (who worked on Mad Max: Fury Road with Theron) is perfect as the entrepreneurial laundromat owner who wants to solve a grave miscarriage of justice.

Charlize Theron is beyond brilliant as the moody, aloof and aggressive grown up Libby. Corey Stoll (who plays the lead in FX networks’s The Strain) plays the grown up Ben, the brother charged with and imprisoned for the murders of his mother (Christina Hendricks) and two of his three sisters. Stoll has very little screen-time but manages to say volumes with the small amount of time he is on screen. 

The child actors, Sterling Jerins as 12 year-old Libby and Tye Sheridan as 16 year-old Ben both deliver, as do the other “child” actors. Perhaps the most disturbing performance, and therefore most impressive, comes from Moretz. After her romantic role in If I Stay and her role as the teen prostitute in The Equalizer in 2014, she channels her darker, more adult, side and is suitably creeper and disturbing as Diondra, the rebellious Daddy’s girl.

Dark Places uses well placed flashbacks to bring the viewer ever closer to the real story behind the murders and this works well as both exposition and backstory reveals. As the film moves to its conclusion,  it is learned that past and present are intertwined and a lot more lies were told than either Libby or Ben realized.

Director Paquet-Brenner does a brilliant job with the film and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips) manages the switch between present day and the past brilliantly, the lighting changes between each, and as usual the film looks crisp and clear and spot on for each set piece.

Like Gone Girl, this film is a mystery/thriller.  Both female protagonists, in this film and GG, are flawed, psychologically damaged individuals. Theron’s character provides an intermittent voice over, posed as inner musings, that adds much to the story and, unlike other narrative films, does not intrude but helps to lets the viewer see her thought process.

There should be some serious gongs handed out to the performers come award time. Theron kills it as the flawed and scarred survivor and Moretz plays completely against type as the devil worshipping girlfriend.  This tale of lies, blocked memories and murder shows just how addictive Gillian Flynn’s work is.

Amazingly this feature is rated ‘R,’ apparently for the violence, which is not gory or overplayed at all and the sexual content which is pretty tame. Moretz’ character does have some hurried grapplings with Tye Sheridan’s character but, similar to her love scene in If I Stay , Chloe shows nothing in the way of anatomy. The language is a bit “close to the bone,” at one point Sean Bridgers as Runner Day, Libby’s estranged father calls wife Patty (Hendricks) the “C” word, which may be the main reason for the rating.

Dark Places is a compelling look at family tragedy and how scarred survivors of crime can be.  This is a 5 out of 5 stars film. At 113 minutes, the film moves at a rapid pace. Even with the multiple flashbacks this mystery grabs the viewers attention and holds it in a  vise-like grip right up to the final credits.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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