There’s a constant in Gillian Flynn novels, men are pretty stupid and women are incredibly ruthless. Flynn’s latest novel turned film “Dark Places” carries on this theme; however, “Dark Places” is not “Gone Girl.”
Charlize Theron stars a Libby Day, a childhood survivor of the Kansas Prairie Massacre that claimed the lives of her mother and two older sisters. She’s the key witness in the conviction of her brother Ben Day (Corey Stoll) for the murders of the rest of their immediate family. Ben is sentenced to life in prison, and the film flash forwards to modern day Libby, an angry trucker hat wearing thirty-something who’s never held a job and subsists off of donations from fans or those who pitied a young orphan girl. Unfortunately for Libby, the coffers run dry as true crime fans shift focus over the years to victims of other tragedies.
Conveniently, Libby receives a letter from a fan who offers her money to appear at a true crime geekfest. It turns out people in Kansas gather to solve real crimes for fun – of course, there’s not much to do in Kansas. Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), the true crime group’s treasurer and Libby’s eventual sidekick, convinces moody pants Libby to investigate the murder of her family – Lyle and the group is convinced Ben is innocent. Libby needs money, as evident by the same torn T-shirt she wears in every scene, and goes along with it.
Sure enough, 5-year-old Libby made a pretty poor witness, but hillbilly cops were determined to lock up her brother who was linked to Satan worship and a few molestations. The film finally becomes more interesting as Libby has a eureka moment after narrowly escaping Ben’s former high school sweetheart – lite on the sweet – and their spawn from hell. A smack on the back of the head is all Libby needed to begin to piece the puzzle together.
After an incredibly boring hour and a half, “Dark Places” begins to feel more like the advertised thriller as Flynn’s masterful plot begins to unfold. Flashback 25 years and the infamous night’s events are quickly revealed to the audience. In what felt like an almost entirely different movie, a pregnant Chloe Grace Moretz (Diondra, Ben’s girlfriend), an American Indian who looked Chinese, a brooding teenage Ben, murdered cows, a serial killer and a mother’s desperate last act to save her family are all thrown together in what amounted to a surreal climax that played better on the pages of Flynn’s novel than it did on the big screen.
The acting was top notch, led by the venerable Theron, but Gilles Paquet-Brenner is no David Fincher. “Dark Places” dragged on until the final 20 minutes. Fans of Flynn’s novels will be decidedly disappointed and for those only interested in film, even more so. However, Flynn’s meteoric rise will only continue to grow as an adaptation of her novel “Sharp Objects” is in production to become a TV movie. But, “Dark Places” only serves to prove the point that the books are always better than their film adaptations.
2 out of 5 stars
“Dark Places” is rated R for some disturbing violence, language, drug use and sexual content.