Monday, September 21, 2015

Dark Places

  I'm a sucker for mysteries. I love me a good mystery. A good mystery keeps you engrossed and guessing right up til the end. It has twists and turns and all that good stuff. Dark Places is a good mystery. The whole cast turns in great performances, and ho'boy what a cast it is. Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christina Hendricks. To say nothing of familiar faces in supporting roles. If the caliber of those involved hasn't sold you, I'm not sure anything I can say will, but I'll do my best because Dark Places was time and money well spent.

  The movie is based on a novel by the same author who wrote Gone Girl, which was adapted into a movie by one of my all time favorite director's, David Fincher. Dark Places kind of exists in the shadow of Fincher's movie, or maybe I got that feeling simply because the story originates from the same author, but the two movies would make a hell of a double feature. Despite my undying love for Fincher, I think liked Dark Places more. Maybe it's because I like more solid closure? Maybe it's because I'm partial to the specific kind of story being told here? But if you liked Gone Girl, my point is this should be essential viewing for you.

  Dark Places focuses on Theron's character, Libby Day. Names are important in this movie so it helps that they're actually memorable names. She's the sole survivor of a massacre which claimed the life of her mother and two sisters at their farm back in 1985. She believes, as does the justice system that her brother, Ben, killed them. As such he's been in jail for the past 28 years. The movie kicks into gear when a guy named Lyle who belongs to a club of crime solvers, gets in touch with Libby, eventually enlisting her to look into the events of that night again. See, Lyle doesn't believe Ben killed the family, but his file is going to be shredded in about a week's time due to some... bureaucratic bullcrap, I dunno.

  Anyways, Libby is bitter and hard, but she's also in need of cash, which Lyle seems perfectly able to dispense to her at his discretion. Lyle needs Libby herself to look into this because he's hit too many dead ends, and she knows most of the people involved firsthand. So, they have an arrangement. Libby drags her feet at first, but the inconsistencies in the established story start becoming apparent to her and the mystery of what really happened starts to suck her in. The movie is more of an intense character drama than a thriller, so it helps that the characters are actually really well written.

   Lyle himself is an interesting character who I would've liked to have had a more central role, but with so many characters as is, and the plot needed to unfold in a timely manner, there wasn't much room for him to be anything beyond a plot device really. But good on them for not making him a static and boring character nonetheless. Hoult sells the role and has some really good dialog. It's also worth mentioning that both him and Theron starred in the most excellent Mad Max: Fury Road together earlier this year. It was a real treat seeing them work together again. In fact, the whole cast is great. I could spent a paragraph on each actor, but I won't, just trust me. They're all great.

  Theron's character is a broken and tormented person. Her life has revolved around this tragedy ever since it happened. She lives off the generosity of sympathetic strangers, but as her lawyer put it to her fairly early on, "People have a very short attention span..." The donations stop rolling in and Libby is forced out of apathy by Lyle's offer. She's not a pleasant protagonist, but it's not like she needs to be either. She grows and learns over the course of the movie has I was very satisfied with her character arc and the resolution we got at the end of the movie.

  The people in Dark Places all have agendas, and half-truths they've told time and time again. As an audience, we follow Libby as she navigates this maze of lies and old secrets. For as intense as the story and content of it is, Dark Places is rather low key. It's not a pulse pounding thriller, nor should anyone expect as much. It's an intricate and involving puzzle that pieces itself together at a very methodical pace. Come for the mystery, stay for the characters. Dark Places isn't perfect, nor is it great, but it's a really decent movie that gets a full recommendation from me.

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