'A Dark Place': Film Review

A film sometimes as odd as its central character.
4/12/2019

Andrew Scott plays a Pennsylvania garbage truck driver who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of a little boy's death in Simon Fellows' crime thriller.

It's no understatement to say that Andrew Scott is stretching himself with his lead role in A Dark Place. The British actor has proven so effective at projecting ruthless intelligence in such films and television shows as Spectre and Sherlock that it's initially disconcerting to see him as an American garbage truck driver seemingly on the spectrum. Scott's strong, startling performance is the most effective element of Simon Fellows' offbeat crime thriller.

The film, set in an economically depressed western Pennsylvania town (but shot in Georgia), revolves around Donnie (Scott), who works alongside his friend Donna (Bronagh Waugh) in a garbage truck servicing the residents of the area littered with Trump campaign signs (the visual cues aren't exactly subtle). His oddball demeanor and lack of social skills indicating some form of unspecified mental disturbance, Donnie nonetheless manages to function reasonably efficiently. He's also a clearly loving father to his adoring 11-year-old daughter (Christa Campbell), the result of a drunken one-night stand with a local woman (Denise Gough) who wants nothing to do with him.

After a 6-year-old local boy is discovered drowned, Donnie expresses his condolences to the child's mother, who is on his route. She sorrowfully tells him that it couldn't have been an accident, as her son was too timid to have wandered off into the woods on his own. Donnie immediately becomes obsessed with the case and begins playing private investigator, making inquiries of the townspeople in such blatant, unguarded fashion that he attracts the interest of the local authorities, including the cops who had immediately determined that the boy's death was accidental.

That Donnie is actually on to something becomes apparent when he receives an anonymous note promising him information. When he shows up for the late-night rendezvous, he's confronted by a masked gunman who orders him to jump off a bridge to his certain death that will be assumed a suicide.

Donnie's escape from that predicament is one of several unconvincing moments in the pic, which uneasily blends murder mystery, social commentary and human drama into its awkward mix. The screenplay by Brendan Higgins also makes it difficult to get a read on the central character, who displays quick-thinking intelligence one minute, as when he tells some suspicious teenagers that he's a "state-assigned grief counselor," and utter cluelessness the next. Sometimes he's lovable, especially in his tender interactions with his daughter, and other times he engages in truly disturbing behavior. It could be argued that such complexity is an aspect of his condition, but here it seems more like narrative machination. Such attempts at dark humor as Donnie reassuring people he's interrogating that their responses will be "off the record" feel similarly contrived. The resolution of the central mystery proves less than satisfying, as does the ending, which strains too hard for tragic irony.

That three of the lead performers, playing American characters, are Irish is another of the movie's oddities, but Scott, Waugh and Gough are fully convincing with their accents. Waugh is terrific as Donnie's work partner who harbors romantic feelings for him, and Gough makes a vivid impression in her brief role. But it's Scott who fully carries the film, helping us overlook the story's contrivances with his moving and intense performance as a character who is as far removed from Professor Moriarty as you can get.

Production companies:  Bedlam Film, Zero Gravity Management, Motion Picture Capital, Cuckoo Lane
Distributor: Shout! Studios
Cast: Andrew Scott, Bronagh Waugh, Denise Gough, Michael Rose, Christa Campbell, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Andrew Massett, Griff Furst, Jason Davis, Kate Forbes, Cory Scott Allen
Director: Simon Fellows
Screenwriter: Brendan Higgins
Producers: Mark Williams, Tai Duncan, Gareth Ellis-Unwin, Leon Clarance
Executive producers: Lee Vandermolen, Laure Vaysse, Jo Monk, Deepak Nayar
Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind
Production designer: Erik Rehl

Costume designer: Lorraine Coppin
Editors: Chris Dickens, David Arshadi
Composer: John Hardy Music
Casting Director: Nanw Rowlands

89 minutes