Amy Adams leads superb cast in HBO’s ‘Sharp Objects’ (review)
CLEVELAND, Ohio – HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” which begins at 9 p.m. Sunday, July 8, is a miniseries that tests how well you can see in the dark. It’s a murky, slow-burn drama that leads you down one grim alley after another, and all of them have one thing in common. Each dismal path is shrouded in darkness.
When you try to navigate unknown terrain in the dark, there’s a tendency to feel lost. There’s the temptation to give in to frustration and just give up.
But keep looking. Keep peering into the darkness that shapes and surrounds this eight-part adaptation of the 2006 novel by Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”). The more you look, the more you start to detect the haunting patterns of violence and legacies of torment. And the more you spot the glimmers of brilliance.
Although, like its characters, “Sharp Objects” is not without obvious flaws, it’s also not without impressive strengths. The cast, led by five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams, is exceptional, making the deep pain and overwhelming angst of these characters both vividly real and incredibly fascinating.
The direction by Jean-Marc Vallée (“Big Little Lies”) also catches fire in mesmerizing ways, particularly when he ponders the nature of evil and cycles of abuse in ways that suggest a cross between “True Detective” and “Twin Peaks.”
Adams plays reporter Camille Preaker, a St. Louis reporter whose life is mess. Having recently spent time in a psych ward, she’s in fairly rocky shape. She is trying to drown the deeply buried trauma with vodka, which she “hides” in water bottles.
Camille spends much of this plodding, flashback-heavy early going tossing back the vodka and dredging up the horrific memories. Her editor, Frank (Miguel Sandoval), believes it will be good for her, personally and professionally, to cover a story in her small Missouri hometown, Wind Gap.
A preteen girl has been murdered and another is missing. Camille turns investigator, but in order to make this journey of discovery and self-discovery, she must face her own tortured past. And that’s not easy, since she seems to hold everything about Wind Gap in contempt, including herself.
Self-loathing is just one of the dark gifts Camille carried away from and back to Wind Gap. She’s a desperately unhappy person from a desperately unhappy town.
And Adams never misses an emotional step, no matter how tricky the psychological footing gets. She delivers a dazzling performance that is the main and compelling reason for seeing this difficult trip through to the end.
But she’s hardly the only reason. The superb cast also features Patricia Clarkson as Camille’s estranged mother, Chris Messina as a Kansas City detective helping in the search for the killer, Eliza Scanlen as Camille’s manipulative 15-year-old stepsister and Elizabeth Perkins as the town’s alcoholic local gossip.
A mystery etched in misery and filled with Gothic trappings, “Sharp Objects” is anything but sharply paced as we are introduced to Wind Gap and its damaged residents. It also suffers a bit from excess, taking a tautly written book and turning it into a bloated miniseries. You never shake the idea that this adaptation would be twice as effective at half the running time.
Yet the disturbing thriller picks up speed in the later episodes, despite the fact that, at this point, it’s carrying a load of agony and desolation you’d think would weigh down the narrative. Quite the opposite.
With scripts by Flynn and Marti Noxon (“UnREAL,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), “Sharp Objects” rewards our patience with the realization that these alleys, as dark as they are, do lead somewhere. They converge and merge in illuminating ways, even if the darkness can’t be left behind. It’s been made too palpable a thing for it not to linger.
What: A miniseries adaptation of the 2006 novel by Gilian Flynn.
When: 9 p.m. Sunday, July 8.