If ever there was an argument about the essential importance of the director in a film’s success, here is a prime example. Author Gillian Flynn has written three books, all taut and memorable thrillers about distressed women attempting to overcome extreme trauma. Sharp Objects was the first, and is in development for a TV movie. Dark Places was the second. And Gone Girl was the third. Director David Fincher translated Gone Girl into a breathtakingly dark, Hitchcockian film that I’ve now seen seven times, finding different nuances on each viewing. Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) has made a purely quotidian, by-the-numbers movie from a book that is every bit the equal of Gone Girl, studded with an array of astounding set pieces.
As Proust said, a work of art only begins to exist from the moment that style appears. Style can be a tricky thing in film. Many great directors, from Ford to Hawks, have verbally denied any intentions other than to entertain, and to accomplish a good job of work. But, reading between the lines, aren’t they slyly admitting to doing quite a bit more than just throwing images onto a screen? And aren’t many of today’s film “stylists” traveling down a specious road, “one full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?” Paquet-Brenner has chosen a middle road, faithfully condensing Flynn’s novel into a series of scenes which reproduce the marvelously inventive plot, with a complete lack of any style whatsoever. This all serves to dull the senses, disappointingly, for what could have been something really exciting.
At least we have Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult holding down the fort (for the second time this year, following Mad Max: Fury Road), and they work diligently at conveying their characters in an intricate plot. That plot involves Theron’s character, Libby Day, who is the sole survivor of a family massacred when she was very young. Now grown, and simply marking time with no effort beyond scraping by day-to-day, Libby is approached by Hoult’s character, Lyle Wirth, who is a member of “The Kill Club.” Said club consists of members who are obsessed with famous murders, particularly ones they believe to have been solved erroneously. When Lyle parses out some payoff dollars to Libby, she grudgingly agrees to aid him with her case. As in the book, we shift back and forth in time, from present day to events leading up to the murders. Flynn weaved this together beautifully in the book, but its handling by Paquet-Brenner is ham-fisted, and no doubt confusing to those who haven’t read the book.
Worth watching for Flynn’s highly original plot, and for Theron and Hoult, but disappointing, compared to what might have been. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 10/6/15