Dark Places full movie review - In "Dark Places", there's a great film trying to find its way out.
Is your brain fully developed? Recent science teaches us that the human brain's prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for rational thinking, isn't fully developed until the brain's owner is in his or her mid-20s.
That's part of the reason that teenagers do so many dumb things ? and why children make questionable witnesses in criminal trials. These facts sometimes mean that the poor judgments and decisions that some young people make, and the some of the actions they take, can cause life-long problems for themselves ? and for those around them. And it doesn't help matters when, as full-grown adults with fully-developed reasoning abilities, they stubbornly justify negative things they did, and cling to unsupported beliefs they formed, during their own period of evolving rationality. Even though they aren't discussed in the story, these facts and their long-term repercussions lead to the problems that we see play out in one small community, and within one family in particular, in "Dark Places" (R, 1:53).
When she was a young girl, Libby Day was in her family's rural Kansas home when her mother and two sisters were brutally murdered. Libby (Sterling Jerins) tells investigators and testifies in court that she saw her troubled older brother, Ben (Tye Sheridan) commit the murders. Nearly three decades later, Libby (Charlize Theron) is living off of the last of the donations she received from sympathetic strangers and the proceeds from a book that she didn't even write but purports to tell her story. Libby has grown into a bitter, anti-social, tormented and lazy woman who still insists that her brother killed her family and ruined her life. The adult Ben (Corey Stoll) is still in prison and hasn't seen his sister since his trial.
Desperate for money, Libby accepts the invitation of Lyle Wirth (Nicholas Hoult) to meet with his club of true-crime fanatics. Many in the group believe that Ben is innocent of the murders, but Libby has no interest in entertaining any such notion, until Lyle offers her more money. Lyle gets Libby to visit her brother in prison. Ben denies that he's the murderer, but we get the distinct feeling that he's holding something back. Lyle pays Libby to take a fresh look at the case and help him dig deeper, which finally causes Libby's own curiosity to rise, as if from a long slumber.
Libby and Lyle find long-forgotten people who may know more about the case than they've revealed in the past, and we also see flashbacks of the events that led up to the murders. We meet Libby's alcoholic absentee father (Sean Bridgers). We see Libby's mother (Christina Hendricks) struggle to raise four children by herself and still hold on to the family farm, no matter what the cost. We also meet Ben's drama-queen girlfriend (played in the flashbacks by Chloë Grace Moretz) and another past acquaintance (Addy Miller) whose story was tied to Ben's in a way that Libby had never really understood. As the film progresses, we see the list of possible suspects in the murders steadily grow and then gradually shrink as we learn more and more about what really happened in that farmhouse on that fateful night in 1985.
"Dark Places" is based on the novel that Gillian Flynn wrote before "Gone Girl", but this second film based on one of her books isn't as good as the first. (Flynn adapted her own novel for the film version of "Gone Girl", and received an Oscar nomination for her efforts, but little-known French filmmaker Gilles Paquet-Brenner, this movie's director, also took on the screen writing duties here.) Inside "Dark Places" there's a great film trying to find its way out, but it's hampered by uneven acting and mediocre directing. (Reminder: As always when reviewing a movie, I don't comment on the quality of the book's story, just on what appears on the screen.)
Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult look very different than when they appeared together in "Mad Max: Fury Road" (most of which was filmed a year before this movie), but their performances aren't as effective or compelling as in the "Mad Max" reboot. In this movie, Hoult's character never fully develops and Theron oversells her character's abrasiveness early in the film. Gilles Paquet-Brenner's uneven writing and direction is partly to blame for this and also results in a distractingly inconsistent tone. Still, the movie comes together nicely in its third act which contains well-played twists that are hard to see coming, and then the film comes to a satisfying conclusion that feels genuine and organic.
In this movie, as in life, even some adults' fully-developed brains make some pretty destructive choices, while the brains of other adult characters figure out ways to move beyond the destruction caused by their youthful irrationality. And those are outcomes that anyone old enough to see this movie can understand and appreciate. In spite of some minor problems with the acting and directing, "Dark Places" tells an interesting story with original twists, and carries important lessons about how poor choices and errant judgments have repercussions that can be both long-lasting and widespread. "B+"