Synopsis – A murder investigation of a slain business man turns to clues found in an author’s book about an eerily similar crime. Based on the 2008 article “True Crimes – A postmodern murder mystery” by David Grann.
My Take – As a kid growing up in the 90s, like everyone else I too was a fan of actor Jim Carrey. But in recent times, the once revered comedian with a big fan base seems to have lost all his mojo, and has elected to appear in a few selected projects, which ended up bombing at the box office, with the exception of the 2014 film, Dumb and Dumber To. The point in mentioning all of this though, is that lately we haven’t been seeing him do much acting. Maybe, that’s a reason why his latest film, opened to little fanfare this weekend, along with premiering on Direct TV, and, as of this writing, remains 0% recommended on Rotten Tomatoes. At first I considered this dismissal a result of Carrey‘s switch to dramatic role, even though he has dabbled in drama before, sometimes to great acclaim, like Man On the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the very underrated The Number 23, yet not financially, and yet as a fan I admired Carrey for taking on a grim and sobering project that requires a range he would never be asked to show in any Hollywood productions, but unfortunately the film is so lurid, irrelevant and unwatchable it makes you wonder if he ever read the script.
Directed by Greek director Alexandros Avranas in his English-language debut and scripted by Jeremy Block, who won a BAFTA for co-writing Last King Of Scotland, this neo-noir is based on a real-life murder case described in 2008 in a New Yorker article by David Grann (author of The Lost City Of Z and Killers of The Flower Moon), ‘True Crime, A Postmodern Murder Mystery’, seemed to have the necessary components for a satisfying thriller, but somehow the film is as laughably generic as its title and driven by a messy script that prevents this one from ever having a chance at grabbing our attention, much less holding it. While the film may be bolstered by Carrey’s nuanced and fascinating performance, yet it feels like this unpleasant film thorough out its 92 minutes run time, simply wants to punish us for not getting the hints from the trailer and for still daring to watch the film.
Set in modern-day Poland, the story follows Tadek (Jim Carrey), a disgraced Polish Detective, who due to an unknown event has lost his credibility and is now relegated to what essentially amounts to a desk job. With only a year left to retire, Tadek finds himself becoming obsessed with a cold case – the murder of a businessman who would frequently visit a bondage club called The Cage, notorious for catering to the basest sexual desires of the rich and perverted. However, the trouble begins when he realizes that old murder case bears striking similarity to a recently released novel from renowned author Kozlow (Marton Csokas) and finds himself being attracted to Koslow’s on-off girlfriend Kasia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a single mother and drug user.
As Tadek ventures deeper into this new investigation, his relationship with his wife, Marta (Agata Kulesza) begins to break down, and haunting secrets begin to emerge, including the connection to Detective Greger (Robert Wieckiewicz), who was originally assigned to the murder case and has now been promoted to Police Chief. Originally called True Crimes, director Alexandros Avranas‘s film, begins with some quick shots of naked women, blindfolded and degraded, trapped amid the darkness. These opening images, paired with the credits, invite a much more sinister tale than what is actually delivered. Despite the blunt beginning, the film begins to kick in by laying the ground for a twisted tone, and leaves you wondering, what’s going to happen next?
However, while director Avranas dips into some gore and violence, much of this relies on the game of cat and mouse between Tadek and Kozlow, which never reaches the level of tension that the film seems to think it does, even in the one-on-one interrogation scene or the seemingly endless blabbering of the recordings Tadek listens to. As a crime thriller, the film fails to truly find its groove, the relationships and contrivances not giving it the suspense of investigative fun it deserves, mainly as the story just lacks coherence, and creates a puzzling tale that tries desperately to use its admittedly impressive production design to carry the weight. However, the drab, sparse, and dreary visuals aim to recall films like Se7en but lack the ability to sickeningly fascinate. Jeremy Brock’s script replaces its source material’s appealing elements and characterizations with over complicated thriller clichés and humorless prurience, for example, Tadek’s investigation into Kozlow, a thoroughly unconvincing literary superstar, points to police corruption, an industrial sex club, and Tadek’s wife, who clearly has lost all interest in him and his daughter is so removed from the family relationship that she, quite literally, has nothing to say.
While the set-up has some inherent interest, Brock writers his characters in a very surface-level way, with the audience never understanding these people and what makes them tick. The film lacks any meaningful substance, with Brock’s very flat adaptation of a supposed true story failing to develop a perspective. Director Alexandros Avranas ‘muted, sterile style pops with a few flourishes, mainly in his knack for cultivating a truly unsettling aura around the starkness of the film’s depravity. He also leans on POV shots, with the actors often speaking directly into the camera; at particular moments, such as in the film’s closing sequence, this succeeds at creating a curious sense of alienation, as if one is both inside the film but outside of its truth, looking in at the larger reality. Also listening to an audio book is as non-cinematic as watching someone read.
The film’s biggest crime, however, is it’s just a slog to sit through. Despite the lurid subject matter, the film’s pacing is so laboriously plodding that the whole drab affair is simply boring. Sure, there are some relatively competent aspects about the film, yet it’s never able to effect the audience the way that it should. Throughout, Avranas’ direction remains leaden and one-note in its attempt to imitate the bleakness of Swedish and Norwegian crime imports in an indifferent Eastern European setting; the sky is always overcast and the characters are all dressed like they’re on their way to a funeral.
As much of a disaster as it might have been, in comparison, last year’s director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of The Snowman at least had a rubbernecking, train-wreck factor going for it, but here, it’s all just boring. Perhaps anyone’s draw to watch this film would be to see Jim Carrey, while he has flirted with dramatic performances before, this performances is perhaps his darkest yet. He disappears into the role seamlessly and fully commits to the role of a detective who obsessively looks for answers. With his hair cropped short and his thick beard more gray than not, combined with a weary and subtly-yet-hypnotically expressive face and a soft accent, this role has the comedic actor far from any kind of role he has ever ventured into, it’s just too bad the film never matches up to him. Marton Csokas is also engaging as the subtly psychotic author Kozlow, delivering his lines with charisma, while Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Kasia is a role that she owns but is little more than her being exploited by everyone else. In supporting roles, Vlad Ivanov, Robert Wieckiewicz, Piotr Glowacki, Kati Outinen, Zbigniew Zamachowski and Agata Kulesza, do as much as they can with the material. On the whole, ‘Dark Crimes‘ is a dreadfully dull crime thriller that despite a solid performance from Jim Carrey, wastes the potential of its intriguing story line.
Directed – Alexandros Avranas
Rated – R
Run Time – 92 minutes