Sat 19 Sep 2015
I was looking for the ‘inspired from a true story’ label in the credits or the information surrounding Dark Places but what I found instead was that it’s based on a book by Gillian Flynn, who also inspired Gone Girl which I hear is a better film which I did not see yet. It has yet all the ingredients of the true crime genre, starting with the setting in the non-photogenic rural Kansas, the dire social environment, the unsolved crime obsession of part of the American public. Somehow the result also seems to hold some of the difficulties directors in the genre encounter when they cannot really create life on screen from real life stories. The director is the French Gilles Paquet-Brenner whose career alternates French and (North-American) English spoken movies – this is his first film that brings on screen not only a story by a famous crime writer but also the fabulous Charlize Theron, who is also one of the co-producers.
The hero of the film is Libby Day (Theron) who has lived all her mature life from the donations and book rights around the horrible crime in which her mother and two sisters were murdered 25 years ago. Her testimony has put in jail for life her brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), a teen at that time, and a vague adept of a Satanic cult in the mid-West of the 80s. The story in the film is triggered by the fact that a ‘true crime’ club members believe that Ben is innocent and with three weeks left before the file is destroyed try to save him. Out of money Libbyengages reluctantly in a search for truth which will put to try her memory and all her life.
Director Gilles Pacquet-Brenner directs the story as an alternation of the investigation on-going in the present and flashbacks that retrace the events from the perspective of Libby but also of other characters in the story. He is quite good in story telling but I had the feeling that if he dared more he could have achieved much better results. There is a tension between the brother and sister that never crosses the screen. If Ben is innocent, Libby had destroyed his life, and the interaction would be different than the quiet brotherly relation we watch. Charlize Theron gives another of her fine quality performances but is simply too sexy for the role. Some of her partners seem mis-cast – Stoll as Ben for example is much too ‘academic’ for a troubled teenager who entered jail at 16 and spent the rest of his life behind bars. The director probably intended to put the emphasize on the social commentaries about the low-class rural environment, about the Satanic cults of the 80s and the fascination of America for true crime and missed or did not know how to create the psychological dimensions of his characters. The film ends by looking too much of a ‘true crime’ instead of a ‘psychological thriller’.