Dark Places

August 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Dark Places” is the second adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. The first, of course, was the acclaimed “Gone Girl”, which was adapted by Flynn herself. Here, her work is written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who has mostly done French language films (except for 2009’s “Walled In”). The two films could not be farther apart in terms of quality of narrative execution, and adaptation itself. Where “Gone Girl” successfully brought page to screen with the same depth and care, “Dark Places” feels like it’s merely a recitation of the book.

The story revolves around Libby Day (Charlize Theron, who may be miscast for this role), who when she was a child, witnessed the murder of nearly her entire family save her older teenage brother Ben, who is convicted of the killings. She is coaxed into witness testimony that sends Ben to life in prison–but years later, a group of people called the “Kill Club” (they follow serial murders and try to solve cases on their own) believe that he may be innocent. One of the leaders of the group, Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), tries to persuade Libby to reevaluate her stance that her brother is guilty. There are inconsistencies in the crime scene itself and Ben doesn’t seem to have a real motive. Back in 1985, during the mass hysteria of satanic occult witch hunts, it was easy for a jury to believe that Ben was a devil worshiper and wanted to make a sacrifice to Satan. In actuality, Ben (Tye Sheridan) is a meek, quiet, reserved normal boy who gets in with a crowd that claims to be Satanists. Older Ben (Corey Stoll) now claims he is innocent, and wants Libby to change her testimony in order to clear him. But she still doesn’t necessarily believe that he didn’t do it. What she begins to discover is that there were other people involved with that night–including Ben’s girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and even his own father, Runner (Sean Bridgers). When his mother Patty (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters Michelle and Debbie are murdered, they are killed in different ways, suggesting there may have been more than one culprit.

The film, like the book, jumps around between timelines, sometimes going back to 1985 on the day of the murders and the hours preceding them, and then going to present day where we have the older versions of the characters being visited by Libby to try and piece together what really happened. In the book, this is all done in a way that makes the story more a thriller than a character study–but it succeeds in being both, really. The movie tries to replicate that, but because it begins jumping around too early (in a book you can get away with that because you can always go back and use reference points), anyone who hasn’t read the book would probably be confused and check out emotionally rather quickly. The story seems like it would be compelling enough to string together a 3 act story easily, but there are too many characters and too much going on to be able to follow it if you’re not already familiar with the material.

The individual scenes are nicely acted. All of the sets are well done, and there is a sense of desperation in the murky atmosphere of the rural midwest. Instead of using that as a theme, however, it’s more like a backdrop. A set, simply to set the stage. The characters speak to each other but they don’t interact. There is no real conflict, no stakes, nothing to gain or lose. We don’t really care if Libby sets her brother free or finds the truth because nothing was established in the first 15 minutes that made us really care about the outcome.

In “Gone Girl”, Flynn is able to reconstruct her novel and keep the theme intact with David Fincher’s masterful directing ability. Not to say that Paquet-Brenner is incapable–but it’s disappointing to see someone completely botch a compelling story simply by missing the point that you need to set everything up credibly and with enough simplicity that the story unfolds naturally and comprehensively. Here, we are given little cuts of meat rather than the whole steak. And it definitely leaves one starving for a better movie.

My rating: :(

 

Gone Girl

October 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

Gillian Flynn could style herself as the 21st century’s “it” girl when it comes to writing flashy novels and even flashier screenplays, turning the movieworld on its head with some savage social commentary and sexy characters that actually make us tingle with excitement.

I’d buy that for a dollar.

In “Gone Girl”, Flynn’s third novel and her first screenplay, she shows she’s a bit green but fully capable of handling her material on the big screen. It helps tremendously to get a visual director such as David Fincher, who has had a very successful career in this century–and knows how to weave a spellbinding story into something timeless. He’s done that with “Se7en”, “Fight Club” and “Zodiac”. And here, in “Gone Girl”, he uses a big canvas with Flynn’s somewhat long and winding screenplay that delivers the goods–albeit the run time wears down its welcome in its closing moments.

The story revolves around a married couple that is starting to fall apart in their relationship as their personal lives are following suit. Nick (Ben Affleck) was a somewhat successful writer in New York; Amy (Rosamund Pike) has grown up somewhat living off her parents’ wealth and a reputation built from a character that her mother created, Amazing Amy. Amazing Amy is a popular children’s book series, much like Ramona from Beverly Cleary. Amy of course lives in the shadow of Amazing Amy, and therefore we get our first glimpse into a dichotomy of character. Both of them lose their jobs and have to move out of New York to Nick’s home town in Missouri to care for his ailing mother, who dies of cancer. This leaves them in a big house and an empty lifestyle.

Amy has an enormous trust fund from her parents and uses some of it to start up a bar (called simply The Bar) with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon). On the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing in a peculiar way. Nick cannot figure it out, especially since his wife was leaving “clues” for him leading up to their 5th anniversary gift (she did this every year for them). But the police begin to get suspicious of his odd behavior, and the media immediately is attracted to the story due to the profile of Amy being a young, blond beauty–and being based on a popular pop culture character.

As the plot continues, more themes emerge about the phoniness of humanity and the pressures the media puts on stories, making something out of nothing, wild accusations that lead the court of popular opinion to decide a person’s fate. But meanwhile, as the story unfolds, a few surprises change our minds about the characters in very distinct and severe ways.

One of the intriguing supporting characters is that of Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), who is surprisingly not a suspect but used to stalk Amy. Because Nick has garnered all of the negative attention, especially when it’s revealed that he had an affair while married, Desi simply exists as wallpaper until his character becomes very prominent in the latter half of the second act.

Nick also hires a high powered and highly successful lawyer (think Johnny Cochran) played inexplicably by Tyler Perry, and they try to find a way to save Nick’s life as it’s fairly imminent that he will be tried for the death penalty if everyone believes Amy is dead.

Flynn has a very sharp pen, and has a sharp and dark look on the world of marriage and relationships in general. I wouldn’t say she’s a full blown cynic–it’s just that we are talking about very superficial people to pick apart. That’s not too hard to do, but she uses them as a jumping off point. There’s also TV show hosts and the mob mentality of the public that seems to want to ruin other people’s lives without worrying about their own business.

There’s a joke at the end about being on a reality show that rings true to the characters–but I almost feel like that joke should’ve done visually to end the film on a slam dunk, rather than have it used as a throwaway line.

Most of the satire and social commentary is deliciously satiable. There are a few routes where it could have gone that may have made an even bigger point (it never really gets into social media, which would be a prime target right now); but overall, I found the film thoroughly enjoyable. The performances by Affleck and Pike are top notch–Affleck is perfectly cast as a somewhat aloof Everyman, and Pike has that little touch of elitism and snottiness that makes her appealing and revolting at the same time. Coon is also very good as the doting sister of Nick, and even Perry turns in a good performance as the lawyer.

As I mentioned, the ending drags on a bit longer than it needs to and I still think a visual comment about the status of phony people would have been more potent than drawing out the ending in exposition. By the last scene, however–which is a bookend and repeated from the first scene–it’s still palatable. There also may have been a  lot of potential Nick and Amy’s in the theater getting a kick out of this movie. While it certainly is entertaining and I think a married couple can have a good time watching it–it certainly can serve a purpose as more than just a movie about two people who probably shouldn’t have married each other to begin with. Maybe its larger point that people marry because of what society tells them than what their heart does that should stick with you–and hopefully does not get lost in an otherwise hoot of a film.

My rating: :-)