After “Gone Girl,” expectations are bound to run high for any film associated with Gillian Flynn. In “Dark Places,” the author passes the torch to writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner with less than stunning results. Though the director manages to bring in an all star cast, his dialogue is almost verbatim to the novel and he has ripped away any suspense the book held.
Charlize Theron plays Libby Day, a woman in desperate need of money. Her family was killed twenty five years ago in a series of murders, leaving her the soul survivor. Libby, though coerced, identified her brother Ben as the killer which landed him in jail. Up until now, Libby has lived off the funds people have sent her out of pity and the grosses of a book she wrote about that horrific night. Needing a quick outlet for cash, she comes across Lyle (a believable Nicholas Hoult), the head of a “kill club” dedicated to gathering information on cases that have such notoriety. Trying to convince her that Ben was not responsible for what happened that night, they begin a journey to discover the truth and bring peace to the constant suffering Libby.
Flashing back to 1985 throughout the film, Libby’s mother, who faces bankruptcy and must defend Ben from accusations of sex abuse, is played with an understated perfection by Christina Hendricks. Chloe Grace Moretz’s role of Diondra, the dark, pregnant and persuasive girlfriend of Ben’s differs with such extremity from the novel that all backstory becomes lost. Though Ms. Moretz brings a rare glimpse of humanity to the role, it winds up conflicting with the overall story elements.
Ms. Theron and Mr. Hoult keep us engaged enough in the present but never with enough depth. For a book that was a true page turner and possibly one of Ms. Flynn’s best, it’s hard not to be let down by a movie that feels more suited for television.
Yet, all is not lost. Mr. Paquet-Brenner shoots the film in style. From the feel of home video footage to his choice of cleverly placed blackouts, he manages to bring us into a world that is worth a visual exploration.
The book itself provides amazing twists and turns, but the transition from novel to screen takes most of that away. There is no edge-of-your-seat excitement, no yearning to find out what truly happened in 1985. When the climax appears, it’s more of an “eh” instead of the “wow” that Ms. Flynn was able to achieve.
Seek out the powerhouse of Ms. Moretz and the overall story that Ms. Flynn provided as the basis for the film, but be prepared to leave in the same place that you came in.
“Dark Places” in playing in selected cities nationwide.