Director: Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christina Hendricks.

Charlize Theron delivers another impassioned performance in the 2nd big screen adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel in the past twelve months. Not as flashy or as big budget as Gone Girl, this intelligent, thoughtful whodunnit is actually the better film, concentrating more on the narrative and characters than elaborate shock tactics.

Perhaps a little too traditional for some tastes, Dark Places, nevertheless, is a taut and, for the most part, convincing thriller aided by solid direction and stellar performances from its terrific cast.

Originally conceived as a starring vehicle for Amy Adams (who bears far more of a physical resemblance to the novels description of the main character), she dropped out and Theron stepped in also taking on producer duties.  Her smarts as an actress thankfully extend to her behind the scenes work. This adaptation of, arguably Flynn’s more accomplished novel, is more gritty and realistic than its predecessor.

Set in a farming town in Kansas, Dark Places tells the story of Libby Day (Theron), the only survivor of a massacre that saw her mother and two sisters brutally murdered.  The authorities believe the crime to be the work of a Satanic cult, and a young Libby testifies in court against her own brother. Twenty eight years after the murder she remains haunted by the violence of her past until Lyle Wirth (Hoult) contacts her with questions about the original investigation and her testimony. Broke and in arrears on her rent, Libby agrees to help Lyle in exchange for cash, visiting her now grown brother (Corey Stoll) in jail and tracking down leads that include a stripper (‘Sopranos’ alumni Drea de Matteo) who accused Ben of molestation, her deadbeat dad (Sean Bridgers) and a former friend of Ben’s (J. LaRose) who was involved in some very 80s devil worshipping antics.

Flashbacks provide further clues, especially when we learn about Ben’s relationship with the unhinged Diondra (Chloe Grace Moretz) – something he kept secret from his sisters and mother, Patty (Christina Hendricks), a woman desperately trying to keep her family together and the wolves from the door.

If Dark Places lacks flair and strains credibility once or twice, it makes up for it with good old fashioned whodunnit story-telling and excellent performances. Theron, now firmly established as one of the finest actresses working today, is astonishingly good. She has a throat-tightening pathos that lends itself perfectly to both the character and the story she’s telling. She blends so neatly into this world, her slightly slumped shoulders and permanent snarl, fully suggesting a life of violence, pain and disappointment. She is never less than wholly convincing.

Hendricks also gives a very fine turn as a proud, honourable woman who life dealt a rotten hand to. Even though she only has a few scenes, her strength, vulnerability and lioness maternal instincts shine through adding welcome gravitas to proceedings.  Hoult, in an underwritten role, is fine while Moretz tears into her part as a manipulative teen hellcat.

Tech aspects are solid, particularly the sombre but affecting cinematography of Barry Ackroyd (Captain Phillips, The Hurt Locker), while director Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) wisely focuses on telling the story straight and allowing his cast, particularly the ladies, to shine.

Matt Williams

Niki Alexandrou

Niki Alexandrou

Niki Alexandrou

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