Donnie Devlin should have an advantage when it comes to sleuthing out people’s dirt. He is a garbage man. However, he does not inspire much confidence when it comes to deductive reasoning. You can use the politically correct euphemism of your choice, but he is who he is. Yet, for some reason, Devlin becomes obsessed with the death of a young boy in Simon Fellows’ A Dark Place, which opens today in LA and Chicago.
People make fun of Devlin all the time, but his daughter Wendy loves him, despite being an awkward tweener. Their mutual affection for the Steelers and the Penguins definitely helps. He still harbors romantic delusions regarding Wendy’s mom, Linda, who bitterly resents her fateful drunken hook-up with Devlin. Frankly, that is why it is so hard to buy into Devlin’s all-consuming interest in the premature death of a little boy on his route.
Nevertheless, Devlin becomes convinced there is something fishy about the lad’s drowning death. The comments of his grieving mother further stoke his suspicions. Plus, the lack of an autopsy and the thuggish efforts to warn him off totally signal foul play to any half-awake viewer. Honestly, the way everyone around Devlin buries their heads in the sand starts to really strain credulity.
There is one reason to see Dark Place and it is not the underdeveloped mystery of Brendan Higgins’ screenplay. It is Andrew Scott’s remarkable lead performance. Although the Irish actor is probably still best known for playing Jim Moriarty in the Cumberbatch Sherlock, he is totally convincing as a rust belt blue-collar worker with undefined disadvantages. It really is more of a character study and an acting showcase for Scott rather than a whodunit or a thriller.
Scott also has terrific chemistry with Christa Campbell as his on-screen daughter, which ironically makes it harder to buy into a lot of Devlin’s decisions. In fact, the big payoff the film supposedly builds to is a badly contrived train wreck of cop-outs. Yet, even at its best, Dark Place is an uncomfortable, angst-ridden viewing experience.
Scott’s work is truly award-worthy, but he is undone by Fellows’ slack execution and Higgins’ anemic narrative. As a film, Dark Place takes itself so seriously, it neglects its genre business, while having way too much skullduggery going on to function as a straight awareness-raising drama. It also demonstrates once again how hard it is for films to stick the dismount. Recommended only for Scott’s fans and friends, A Dark Place opens today (4/12) in LA at the Arena Cinelounge and in Chicago at the Facets Cinematheque.