Plot, genre and tone sometimes seem like different ways to describe the same thing, but it usually takes an exceptionally talented and experienced filmmaker to juggle the three when they’re clashing. Alexandros Avranas, director of Dark Crimes, is no such filmmaker. His new film separates these three vital narrative elements so broadly, they might as well exist in different universes.
Let’s start with the plot: Tadek (Jim Carrey) is a Polish detective with a generic Eastern European accent he suspiciously turns on and off between scenes. He’s obsessed with the unsolved murder of a businessman who used to frequent one of those sex clubs in movies that you know is sleazy because of all the ultra-grainy black-and-white footage and incessant strobe effects. Another frequenter of the sex club is Kozlow (Marton Csokas), a pretentious author in a pretentious movie, spewing empty philosophical platitudes about the “real meaning of truth.” Tadek thinks Kozlow killed the businessman because, get this, he wrote about the murder in great detail in one of his books, details that were up to that point only available to police officers involved with the case.
As Tadek tries to pin the murder on Kozlow, he becomes personally involved with Kasia, a prostitute whose soul is broken through years of abuse, and who also appears to have a toxic codependent relationship with Kozlow. Of course Kasia’s played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who’s contractually obligated to take every masochistic female role in contemporary cinema. As Tadek is lured into Kozlow and Kasia’s mind games, he becomes more and more entangled within this hedonistic world he once despised.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that this deliciously sordid potboiler plot is ripe for a self-aware bit of exploitation mixed with straight genre exercise, akin to Paul Verhoeven’s schlock classic Basic Instinct. Hell, they even share plot points, with suspects writing details of the murder into their novels. However, Avranas decides to awkwardly cram this plot into an oppressively dry police procedural featuring a series of deliberately impassioned, aesthetically repetitive, “intense” interrogation sequences in which actors give each other scorching looks for seemingly half a minute before delivering lines, interspersed with depressingly quiet scenes of Tadek staking out suspects. The attempt here seems to be to infuse a sense of realism, but such sensationalized pulp deserves more than what amounts to a generic Law & Order episode at half speed.
The borderline monochrome, melancholic art-house tone that Avranas applies to this material further distances the audience from any self-aware bit of fun they could derive from the story. Having the film take place in Poland seems to be to link the post-communist selfishness of the country to the hedonism indulged by the suspects, though Avranas is far more interested in creating mood than establishing a narrative connection. By trying to elevate the material into art-house self-seriousness, Avranas ends up needlessly suppressing it. He’s no David Fincher.
All of that said, there’s one thoroughly enjoyable element in Dark Crimes: experiencing the new no-fucks-given stage of Jim Carrey’s career, where he seems to be actively seeking to get lost in gloomy roles without a molecule of humor. Carrey commits one hundred and ten percent, fluctuating accent notwithstanding. It’s only a matter of time before his newfound artistic intensity will be matched to suitable material to create something special.
Director: Alexandros Avranas
Writter: Jeremy Brock
Starring: Jim Carrey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Kati Outinen, Vlad Ivanov, Agata Kulesza
Release Date: May 18, 2018