“SHARP OBJECTS” ON HBO. By Tim Riley
“Sharp Objects,” the first novel by Gillian Flynn, perhaps best-known for “Gone Girl,” has been adapted into an eight-episode Southern gothic psychological crime series for HBO with an assist from the author. Camille Preaker (a stellar Amy Adams), an alcoholic with a dark history of self-mutilation, is a crime reporter for the St. Louis Chronicle who is assigned by her editor Curry (Miguel Sandoval) to cover a disturbing story of a murder and disappearance of another teen in a small town.
The town is Wind Gap, Missouri, which looks like a ghost town except for the ubiquitous presence of a trio of roller-skating teen girls and the Chief of Police (Matt Craven) cruising the streets, and it’s where Camille was raised by overbearing mother Adora (Patricia Clarkson).
Camille’s return to her hometown does not make her the prodigal daughter in the eyes of her family. Adora, given to cutting remarks, complains that Camille arrives unannounced only to probe with “horrible, morbid questions, stirring everyone up.” What appears disturbing to Adora is that Camille arrives as the big city investigator, prompting her to say “I am happy you’re here, but don’t embarrass me – not again.” Camille’s entire visit is destined to be fraught with tension.
The stepfather, Alan Crellin (Henry Czerny), is so detached he spends much of his time fiddling with an expensive sound system. Camille’s half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), a precocious 15-year-old, smartly plays the good-girl role while coyly hiding her wild, rebellious streak.
Flashbacks to the death of Camille’s little sister Marian remain a haunting memory that recurs all the time. What unfolds in “Sharp Objects” is a character study above all else that probes the dysfunctional nature of the family and the inhabitants of a stratified community. As the inquisitive, hard-drinking reporter, Camille’s comfort zone is found in hanging out in the town’s lone dive bar and driving around swigging vodka from water bottles. Interaction with the local authorities proves to be less comfortable.
The police chief is less than thrilled to be saddled with the unwanted help of young Kansas City detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina), who in turn appears to be equally entranced and annoyed by Camille’s involvement. “Sharp Objects,” more than a murder mystery, is most often a slow-moving journey through the genesis of Camille’s tortured self-loathing and destructive behavior. It requires patience for the viewer that could pay off.