A film review by Craig J. Koban June 3, 2018

DARK CRIMES j

2018, R, 92 mins.

 

Jim Carrey as Tadek  /  Charlotte Gainsbourg as Kasia  /  Kati Outinen as Malinowska  /  Marton Csokas as Kozlow  /  Agata Kulesza as Marta  /  Zbigniew Zamachowski as Lukasz

Directed by Alexandros Avranas  /  Written by Jeremy Brock, based on an article by David Grann

 

 

 

 

 

DARK CRIMES is one of the most repellently depressing films that I've seen in recent memory, a would-be intoxicating murder-mystery thriller that's made all the more unsettling because of its dicey subject matter handling and because it represents a return to the silver screen for Jim Carrey, his first film as a lead since starring in DUMB AND DUMBER TO.  

This Poland set detective drama - based on the 2008 New Yorker article TRUE CRIME: A POSTMODERN MURDER MYSTERY by David Grann - could not be anymore diametrically different than Carrey's recent comedic efforts, so it represents a return to the promise of his dramatic turns of years past and a potential new career path for the actor.  Unfortunately, DARK CRIMES could also not be any more worse of a comeback dramatic vehicle for Carrey, seeing that even the goodwill of his low key intensity and focus here is utterly squandered in an aimless and thoroughly unpleasant thriller that generates little, if any, suspense or narrative intrigue.  I felt empty and hollow for having watched it. 

 

 

I will say, though, that Carrey fearlessly and thanklessly commits himself to this dour film with an equally dour and charm-free performance.  He plays Tadek, a disgraced Polish detective that's clinging to occupational life after being delegated to menial filing work in order to keep his job to support his family.  His past is one of obsessive compulsive tendencies and many a botched investigation, but he's given a newfound chance of personal redemption when he discovers a novel written by celebrated author Kozlow (Martin Csokas) that contains a very ghastly and appalling murder in its pages that bares a startling similarity to a fact based case that Tadek once worked on.   

Strongly believing that the writer is indeed the culprit that he's been fanatically trying to capture for many years, Tadek puts ample pressure of Kozlow to get a confession out of him, but he soon learns that this suspected murder has a few tricks up his sleeve in terms of sending him down false leads.   Tadek remains steadfastly committed to getting a confession of guilt from this man, whom he thinks is pure evil, but he hits multiple dead ends, which begins to weigh heavily on his own sanity and home life.  As he gets deeper and deeper into the seedier details of this case, he comes in contact with Kozlow's girlfriend Kasia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose own perverse history with abuse strangely attracts the cop to her.  With each passing day it becomes clear that Tadek is getting no closer to making Koslow admit guilt to his crimes, which only further fuels his unwavering desire to seek justice, and the sense of hopelessness in this case props up his bleak despair, which ultimately spills over in counterproductive and unhealthy ways.   

DARK CRIMES is a movie about people that are emotionally ravaged by life.  That inherently doesn't make it a bad film.  I've seen many great thrillers about doomed personas on the verge of all out mental implosion.  My revulsion to the film, though, has more to do with its execution, especially when it comes to some of its more unsavory content.  The film begins in an S & M club and features naked women being brutally humiliated and savagely beaten, and it's here where there exists an underground clientele base that are given free reign to do just about anything they want at the expense of completely exploiting the poor victimized women there.  There's a queasiness to how DARK CRIMES begins by thrusting us into such macabre scenes of barbaric sexual bondage.  One nude woman in particular is tied up and eventually hung.  The context free manner that this film relays this content shows that it's egregiously using it for pure shock value first and foremost, only then later trying to create some semblance of a mystery narrative around it.  That felt both dirty and wrong to me (it's also not helped that DARK CRIMES was co-produced by Brett Ratner, whose own brush with sexual assault allegations makes these early sequences especially hard to stomach in hindsight).  I'm not offended by films tackling subject matter that involves sexual violence, but DARK CRIMES is really kind of puerile in its misogynistic and toxically exploitive handling of its material. 

The flat and listless direction by Alexandros Arvanas is another problematic distraction here, seeing as he paints the screen with drab and colorless cinematography that should have evoked a disturbing sense of dread and unease, but instead is just dull to look at.  I'd be willing to forgive these type of aesthetic indiscretions if Arvanas actually invested in the plot and took the central mystery and characters in compelling directions.  Regrettably, his predilection towards focusing on the more tawdry elements of the film's harmful erotic elements and less on the potentially powerful dynamic between the detective and his suspect prey all but undoes any type of visceral impact.  There's a scandalous lack of nail biting suspense here, which becomes abundantly clear with the elephantine pacing on display (at just a hair over 90 minutes, DARK CRIMES often feel twice as long).  Hell, the cat and mouse games between Tadek and Kozlow and how Kaisa fits into all of this wallows in obligatory crime noir clichés (the hero and family man cop, now disgraced, will be tempted by a damaged woman who has ties to the killer and will, throughout it all, complicate matters for everyone).  I didn't care for any of these lost souls on either side of the law because DARK CRIMES makes pitiful attempts to make me care.  That, and the underlining whodunnit aspect of the story never really becomes as intoxicating as the film thinks it is. 

Carrey is, to be fair, a very inspired casting choice here.  With his shaved head, heavy beard, penetrating and icy stare, and thick without coming off as phony or forced Polish accent, the Canadian actor is given free reign to dive headfirst into one of his most humorless, unethical, and troubled characters that he's ever played.  I think it's a testament to his abilities as a performer that he's able to effectively curtail all of his previous comedic and camera mugging hysterics to play a deeply wounded man with an understated and unpredictable level of caged ferocity.  And Carrey has been very good before in dramatic roles (like MAN ON THE MOON, THE TRUMAN SHOW, and the underrated I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS), so it's kind of welcoming to see him sink his teeth back into the type of roles that I was hoping he would continue to focus on over the course of the last few decades, albeit with mixed results.   

It would be fair, though, to say that DARK CRIMES would be almost unendurable without Carrey front and center, trying as he can to carry this film on his back and make it work.  The ultimate sin of DARK CRIMES is that it never gives Carrey a story worthy of his intense focus here.  Not only is this film's everyman cop turns unethically obsessed dynamic achingly familiar, but Arvanas rarely finds any sizeable hook to lure in viewers to become truly invested in its police procedural elements (this is also not aided by how Csokas theatrically overplays his antagonist without any nuance and subtlety).  Worst yet, DARK CRIMES is tastelessly volatile in its handling of sexual abuse and uses it for cheap titillation, not to mention that...well...it's all so crushingly boring to endure on top of that.  This film is an uninspired and lurid mess of a thriller, and it's no wonder that its U.S. release went straight to VOD after its 2016 international theatrical release.  American distributors knew a dog with flees that inspires frequent watch checking in viewers when they saw one.  

  H O M E