Charlize Theron/Photo © ImageWorx/Shutterstock
The title role in the much-anticipated Gone Girl adaptation appeared to vanish upon arrival to Reese Witherspoon, who pounced upon Gillian Flynn’s intricately plotted thriller-cum-treatise on post-Millennial marriage that’s become the literary phenomenon of the past six months. But as with most Gillian Flynn stories, things are not what they seem. Witherspoon remains attached solely as the film’s producer, despite the fact that her unique gift for creating ruthless innocent savant (think: “Election”) seemed tailor made for Gone Girl’s ambitious perfectionist, Amy Dunne. So the juicy role remains low-hanging fruit for an ambitious actress with the mettle and talent to pull off someone as loveable as she is loathsome.
With Witherspoon off the table, Charlize Theron was considered a leading contender to embody Flynn’s calculating cool customer. But that option was eliminated with this week’s news that Theron has signed on to star as Libby Day, the sole survivor of a Midwestern massacre that obliterated her entire immediate family, in the adaptation of Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places,which was praised by critics but nowhere near the cultural phenomenon Gone Girl has become, transcending age, gender, class and genre preferences. A copy of Flynn’s third novel is just as likely be found laying on your reading pile as on your mother-in-law’s nightstand or stuffed into your brother’s messenger bag.
While no less creepy or informed by zeitgeist-y current events than Gone Girl, Dark Places never found much traction beyond literary mystery circles. Flynn explores the culture of fear and intolerance of difference in rural America — the kind of lynch-mob mentality that lead to the wrongful convictions of the West Memphis Three. In Dark Places, Libby initially takes on the persona of a no-nonsense damaged soul who has become practical about her dim prospects for leading a productive or happy life. Then, reluctantly, she gets drawn into an underground of conspiracy theorists that don’t believe her brother was acting out some kind of satanic ritual on his family, as the media and prosecutors contended during the trial. In the end, the novel becomes as much about Libby’s delayed coming-of-age as it is about her decision to join the world of the living and take some action in solving the horrendous crime that ground her life to a standstill.
Admittedly, the statuesque Theron is an odd choice to play the diminutive five-foot tall character. And it’s hard to imagine someone with her kind of klieg light charisma playing a dowdy farm girl overlooked by everyone she comes into contact with. But given how completely she disappeared into the fleshy mulleted serial killer “Monster,” we’re not overly worried about whether she’ll turn “Gone Girl” into “that Charlize Theron movie” the way Julia Roberts might have in her heyday.
Our most pressing concerns, however, involve the choice of “Dark Places” director, Gilles Paquet-Brenner, whose adaptation of the worldwide bestseller, “Sarah’s Key,” failed to ignite interest with U.S. moviegoers. The film starred Kristen Scott Thomas as a journalist, investigating the Nazis’ Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of Parisian Jews in 1942, whose life becomes entwined in the story of a young girl who locks her brother in a closet to avoid capture and is unable to return to release him. The wildly popular historical novel came across as a little canned and sentimental on screen – two qualities with no business anywhere near Dark Places. On the other hand, Paquet-Brenner began his career churning out creepy thrillers, including “Pretty Things,” which starred a young Marion Cotillard as a set of Jeckyll and Hyde twins, and “Walled In,” about a young female construction engineer overseeing a haunted building.
Now that Theron has committed to “Dark Places,” the mystery surrounding who will star in “Gone Girl” has intensified considerably. Amy Adams remains a strong possibility. Jessica Chastain, Michelle Williams or Emma Stone could each pull it off, though we have yet to see that kind of metallic meanness from Williams. Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt could also make it work with some expert bleaching. It’s a tough call at this point. Our vote would probably go with Chastain, whose talents seem boundless, with Hathaway coming in a close second thanks to the bitchy bridesmaid she played in “Rachel Getting Married.”
Which actress do you see as Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne?