There is nearly nothing subtle about Dark Crimes. Not in its blunt title, nor in its heavy-handed script or flashy, unbalanced performances. There is, most assuredly, no subtlety to its opening, which assaults the viewer with images of full-frontal nudity, sex, and female degradation. The only subtlety to be found is in the performance of singer and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, though it’s her co-star, Jim Carrey, who will be the subject of most of this strange, ugly film’s discussion.
And why not? It’s a bizarre, fascinating turn for Carrey, who plays a police officer named Tadek with grim, glassy-eyed restraint. Carrey’s approach is consistent with the character, a joyless, buttoned-up Polish investigator who can’t stop himself from dredging up a cold murder that went unsolved the year before. Tadek’s obsession initially rises from his belief that the detective initially assigned to the case (and subsequently promoted to police chief), Greger (Robert Wieckiewicz), was involved. The subsequent reveal that the murder seems to be described in intricate detail in a novel by acclaimed author Krystov Kozlow (Marton Csokas) soon becomes all-consuming, especially once Kozlow’s ties to Greger become clear. As the film unfolds, Tadek’s obsession reveals itself to be rooted not just in catching the killer, but also in the sordid details of the case itself, which involves sadism, torture, and a now-shuttered subterranean sex club. There is no room for laughter in this film.
Carrey’s dabbled in drama before, sometimes to great acclaim (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man On the Moon). His work here, however, initially recalls the unfortunate 2007 genre flick The Number 23, though the connection owes more to aesthetics and tone than anything. There, Carrey could draw upon his trademark mania as a source of madness. Tadek, on the other hand, is a character so far removed from Carrey as a performer that it’s a wonder he was ever even considered for the part. Tadek is a character written to be devoid of charm or humor and, as such, Carrey has no opportunities to draw upon the anxious, springy energy of Man On the Moon or the desperate, aching despair of Eternal Sunshine. Instead he’s tasked with talking tough in dimly lit interrogations or trading shouts with sneering baddies. Were he convincing in the role, it could very well cast the actor in a new light, but his Tadek feels composed rather than conjured, with Carrey playing the idea of obsession rather than living in it.
It doesn’t help that the performers simply aren’t on the same page. Csokas, for example, would be a delight in a different movie, one that seemed half-aware of what a blustery bore he is. He relishes both the book-on-tape readings of Kozlow’s dreary works — “A girl screaming was like shopping mall Muzak, the sound of buying and selling” — and the cheeky, nihilistic talking points of his character — “Truth cannot exist independently of the human mind” — and even weaves some humanity between the lines, but his icky vein of cruelty is palpable to the point of parody. The same goes for Wieckiewicz’s Greger, who spits ominous threats that wouldn’t be out of place in a pulp paperback. Contrasting that against Carrey’s self-seriousness and Gainsbourg’s compelling bloodletting causes an imbalance that serves to sink the film.
Greek 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.
That’s a good thing, too, since themes of objective and subjective truth flood Dark Crimes as much as they do its loose source material, David Grann’s excellent “True Crime: A Postmodern Murder Mystery.” Grann’s article, which relates the true story of an author who was imprisoned after his fiction book appeared to hold the key to an unsolved murder, asks us to ponder the ways in which “truth is being displaced by narrative.” That idea is hammered home time and again in Dark Crimes, but rarely does it scale towards an individual truth of its own, nor does it reveal much about the characters themselves, all of whom feel adrift in different movies. Our advice? Skip the movie, read the article.