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.

Drive (2011) Gosling and Refn in First Partnership (Review/Trailer)

Poster from Drive The 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive, which was his first partnership with Nicholas Winding Refn, is a compelling film that grips the viewer and plunges them into the monosyllabic world of Gosling’s nameless character. With star turns from the lead, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Christina Hendricks, the movie hits all the right notes and entertains despite the odd plot hole.

The story follows “the Kid” aka the driver in his everyday existence which is, to say the least, pretty quiet. The man himself does not say a lot. Even his spiel to prospective customers consist of about three or four lines of dialogue. When Gosling’s character is not stunt driving for the movies, he offers his services as a getaway driver.

The Kid’s talents lay not in speedy escapades with the police chasing him and his cargo up and down roads in reckless pursuit, but in his pre-planning his route and cleverly losing whatever tail he may have picked up. A robbery at the start of the film has Gosling’s driver listening to a basketball game as he takes his two passengers away from the crime scene.

It only becomes apparent later that he is monitoring the game to use the event as part of the escape plan. When not working as a getaway driver or in the movies, he is a mechanic at Shannon’s (Cranston) garage and his employer/friend has big plans for the driver. Included in the plans are Albert Brooks, as Mr. Bernie Rose, and Ron Perlman’s Nino, aka Izzy. Both men are ruthless and dangerous.

Entering this mix are Carey Mulligan’s married Irene, and her son, along with her recently released from prison husband, Standard. Before Irene’s other half got out of jail, she and Gosling got pretty friendly and when the ex con is threatened into doing a job to repay protection dues from prison, driver steps in to help.

The film is dark and in the “romance” between Irene and the driver, there are not many moments where either one declares their feelings for the other. Silence may mark their mutual attraction, but the signs are there and both actors convey them adequately.

Refn uses silence again in scenes which are trauma heavy or where Gosling’s character erupts into violence. Muffling the sound, only later to fill it with music, intensifies the action. The director works well with Ryan Gosling and went on to make Only God Forgives. While not as well received as Drive the film shows just what a successful team these two artists make.

Looking at Refn recent cat lists, it appears that he favors Christina Hendricks as collaborator and it comes as no surprise. Her small role as the “helper” in Standard’s robbery, the Mad Men actress really stands out. Like the other actors in Drive with “smaller” roles, she knocks her performance out of the park.

It certainly took me a long time to watch the 2011 film. After seeing Only God Forgives I’d intended to see Drive immediately afterward. Still, the wait was worth it and this is a real 4 out of 5 star film. The loss of a star has more to do with the glaring continuity goofs than anything else and the movie is entertaining. A must see for Gosling or Refn fans.