I want to tell you about the ending of Alexandros Avranas’ dirty-cop-and-sex-dungeons thriller Dark Crimes, because it’s a startlingly poignant and genuinely surprising bit of cinematic artistry. But that might ruin the film’s one real pleasure, so instead I have to just tell you about all the other stuff. Ugh.
Jim Carrey plays Tadek, a gruff and disgraced detective in Warsaw. Tadek is looking for redemption, as all such characters are, and investigating a cold case that brings him into the orbit of controversial novelist Kozlow (Marton Csokas). The acerbic, nihilistic writer once lived in a warehouse that was home to both artists and a sadist’s sex club, where beautiful Slavic women are stripped naked and chained like dogs for customers’ pleasure. The murdered man frequented the club and had been in contact with Kozlow; Tadek listens to the audiobook of Kozlow’s new novel and realizes the details of a murder in the book match up exactly to those of the crime he’s trying to solve.
The script, written by Jeremy Brock, is based on a New Yorker article from 2015 called “True Crime,” the real-life story of a narcissistic novelist who published a “fiction” book detailing a murder he actually committed. What made that original article so fascinating was that it was real. That makes it a bit baffling that Brock and Avranas have abandoned the specifics of Brock’s reporting and turned true crime into a fictional cliché. Masters like Patricia Highsmith and Stephen King have already dabbled in the “what if” of author protagonists writing their crimes into books, and the throughline here turns out to be one of the oldest in the game, that of a detective tempted by and eventually succumbing to the dark world he’s investigating.
Scenes are often oblique and confusing, with the clues the audience needs to piece this all together buried in long, slogging passages of dialogue delivered, Jonathan Demme–style, directly to the camera. At times, this technique can work (especially in that ending that I won’t spoil), with actors getting the chance to perform what are essentially monologues; Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays sex worker and continual rape victim Kasia, makes the most of these spoken passages, as she traverses a spectrum of emotions in just sentences, while Carrey and Csokas rarely break beyond their carefully crafted macho façades. The two men seem to be in a pissing contest to see who can be more sullen.
Appropriately, the cinematography, care of Michal Englert, soaks up the dank, gloomy terrain of Warsaw. That’s actually Krakow, the only Polish city that embraced brutalist architecture, which turns out to be integral to the mood of the film. Cement and sharp angles abound in the scenery, reinforcing that this story is so very dark. One almost feels bad for brutalism’s admirers for how often the style is invoked for ugly things. And this is one very ugly movie at its heart, not for how Englert photographed it but for how bleak and unrelenting the violence is — even that ending can’t dig Dark Crimes out of its dark hole.