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Nicholas Hoult and Charlize Theron in DARK PLACES

All movies are not created equal; the studios know that, the stars know that, and–to a certain extent–the fans knows that. You still gotta wonder though, with a cast that includes Charlize Theron, Corey Stoll, Nicholas Hoult, Christina Hendricks, and Chloë Grace Moretz why isn’t Dark Places a Gone Girl-type phenomenon? I have a few thoughts:

  • Both movies hinge on the question: “Did he do it?” Dark Places offers a more conclusive answer, and the real truth behind what happened that night is a clever variant of “it’s not the killer you think,” but it doesn’t make up for the confusing multi-strand split time period narrative that has unfolded over the course of the movie.
  • Libby Day (Theron) is a more conventional reluctant protagonist which means that she should be easier to identify with, but the qualities Ms. Flynn–and therefore Mr. Paquet-Brenner (who wrote the film’s screenplay)–imbue Libby with make her an unlikable character.
  • There is a brother-sister relationship at the centre of Dark Places as well but it doesn’t play as well as the one in Gone Girl.
  • Lyle Wirth (Hoult) only seems to exist for the purpose of setting Libby on the path to finding out what really happened the day her mother and two sisters were murdered. It makes the actor’s presence in the movie confusing because he disappears for large portions of time. Libby rarely investigate with Lyle’s help even though he brought her into the investigation.
  • The pace and length of this movie is all wrong. Especially in the portions where we are getting closer to the truth, the cutting away from the past to the present is little more than a time-wasting exercise. What really happened that night becomes clear way before the filmmakers actually let us see it. If that was a move designed to make the audience feel smart, it didn’t work.
  • When the apparent age of one of the characters–the way it appears on screen–is taken into account, the timelines don’t quite make sense. It also dragged me out of the narrative.
  • Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner is no David Fincher. Mr. Fincher’s ability to shape difficult narrative into compelling cinema–cases in point: SE7EN, Fight Club, The Social Network, and Gone Girl–is sorely missed in the way the various story threads are handled in Dark Places.
  • Ms. Theron’s performance as Libby leaves much to be desired. Her disconnection from the events of 28 years ago is understandable at the beginning of the movie. Not so much as new facts present themselves. She goes through the whole movie as if she was having an out of body experience. This makes it hard for the viewer to care when it appears that the lead actress herself does not.
  • Dark Places is one note, too long, and anchored by a boring central performance. This is definitely not how I felt about Gone Girl.