The film adaptation of Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck, boosted fiction writer Gillian Flynn to fame. Since then, mystery lovers have been seeking out Flynn’s other two novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, for the same tingly suspense that keeps readers (and movie watchers) on the edge of their seats. Dark Places is the most recent of Flynn’s novels to hit the big screen, but unfortunately, it won’t amount to the same fame as Gone Girl.
Oscar-winner Charlize Theron (Monster, The Italian Job) plays the main character, Libby Day, a lethargic woman in her 30’s who is still recovering from the traumatic experience of surviving the mass murder that left her mom and two sisters dead. Her brother, who had been 16 years old at the time of the murders, was accused and convicted.
Both the book and the movie flip back and forth between Libby’s current life and the day of the murders, leaving readers (and movie watchers) with multiple perspectives and a lot of dramatic irony. But here comes the famous game of “book vs. movie”: Book-lovers who watch the film version of their favorite novels are rarely satisfied, and I can say the same for Dark Places. The changes the filmmakers made were not only frustrating, but they also didn’t help the plot.
The biggest ill-made change was casting Theron as Libby. Even though the actress has a lot of acting experience and has won an Oscar for her role in Monster (2003), she wasn’t the right fit for the character. Libby is supposed to be a short platinum blond firecracker who regularly feels defensive. Theron was able to channel the defensiveness and anger Libby has in the novel, but Libby’s physical qualities in the book are important for her characterization and add to the plot. Since Theron is a tall dirty blond with impeccable Hollywood features, the characterization for Libby was lost and made the character fall flat. It’s also important to note that Theron pretty much wore the same outfit throughout the whole movie. I’m not sure if this was a purposeful decision on the director’s part, but I’m sure that even a woman down on her luck would change her clothes at least a couple of times within a month.
Character development was the main thing missing from the movie, which might not seem important to some, but the unique attributes of each character enhance the plot. They make the book stand out; but a lack of characterization makes the movie fall flat.
Despite the lack of characterization, the movie’s plot was undeniably mind-bending and had watchers at the edge of their seats at the pre-screening I attended. It’s difficult to determine how much people who hadn’t read the book prior to the movie enjoyed the film. Walking out of the theater, audience members chatted excitedly about the interesting plot, but there was also a lot of confusion. My date for the night (my mom) and I had a full grasp on the movie since we had already read the book, but I can see how the movie left some holes that would confuse watchers who hadn’t read it.
My advice: Definitely read the book, and if you haven’t already, read Flynn’s other novels (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects). Dark Places makes for a good beach read, and its suspense will have you burn through it fast. As for the movie, don’t make an overwhelming effort to see it. If it comes on TV on a lonely Friday night, it would be a better alternative to Family Guy reruns.