Twilight (1998)

Two years before our actual story begins, we meet our lead character, as well as a couple of minor ones. The protagonist for our story is Harry (Paul Newman) a semi-retired private detective. In our opening scenes, he’s hunting down a couple of kids, who escaped from America and headed down to Mexico. He’s working for the parents of the girl, Mel (Reese Witherspoon). Mel’s boyfriend, Jeff (Liev Schreiber), allegedly stole her (he had her permission but not that of her parents), and considering she’s only 17 at this point, this is a crime.

Anyway, he tracks them down with seemingly relative ease. We then fast-forward two years, and Harry is telling the story of the time in between our opening and now during a police interview. He’s going to narrate a story involving a twenty-year investigation regarding the death of a man who has been long presumed dead, likely due to suicide. This man was the former lover of one Catherine Ames (Susan Sarandon), who is the wife of Harry’s employer, Jack (Gene Hackman). Sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

It would make sense for Jack to be the prime suspect. After all, he gets the trophy wife, and the man he steals her from isn’t going to complain. Or maybe it’s Catherine herself, fed up with being fought over that she decided to kill the one she least loved. Maybe it really was a suicide, and the whole thing is silly. Perhaps it’s even Harry, and what he’s really working toward is discovering if anyone else is attempting to solve the case. Who better to track down an investigator than another investigator — and one of the best, to boot? Maybe the man never actually died. Maybe he’s actually Harry! There are so many possibilities!

The only one we can assume is innocent is Mel, considering that for most of the story, she’s 19, and the death was over 20 years ago, so is couldn’t have been her. Or maybe she’s not really 19, and maybe she’s not really the daughter of these two people. She doesn’t call them “Mom” or “Dad,” so that’s possible, right? We’re kept guessing for most of Twilight, which is always a good thing in a film like this. Our mind must always be kept busy, or it might start to feel like a drag to sit through.

Aiding Harry on his quest are two people, both of whom seem to come and go as they please. The first is another elder investigator, Raymond (James Garner), while the other is a cop who used to be Harry’s partner — or maybe they were never partners, I’m not sure as both characters keep contradicting one another — a man named Reuben (Giancarlo Esposito). Hey, maybe one of them did it! Again, our mind continues to suspect everyone.

Unfortunately, after what happened is actually revealed, I was disappointed. Not because it’s necessarily a poor choice, but because there were much better ones. You know how on multiple choice tests you’re asked to pick “The Best Answer” even though more than one is technically correct? That’s what Twilight‘s decision felt like. Yeah, it’s choice is okay, but there were much better ones to choose from. If there were four possible choices, the one it goes with is about third best in my mind.

This leads to a disappointment with the film after it ends. You wanted it to be someone else, not because of any emotional involvement, but because it would have made more sense. You wish you could have written this film, if only to fix that one choice. The reveal isn’t all that well-handled either, as Twilight tries to disguise its true villain one too many times for my liking. It wanted to have a real twist, but that results in an overlong running time, and the film only plays for around 90 minutes to begin with.

This is also a very deliberately paced film. By that, I mean that it’s slow. This isn’t a noir film that will keep you involved thanks to a fast-paced plot; instead, it wants you to invest in its characters after the mystery is set-up fairly early on. I guess when you have three actors over the age of 60 at the time of filming, it makes sense to keep the plot somewhat slower — after all, you’re not going to have James Garner or Paul Newman involved in too many gunfights or car chases; they’re better at standing around talking anyway — but it is a little too slow and repetitive at times.

I’ve given you the cast members. Once you read them, you come into this film and expect good performances. That’s also what you get. Your expectations will be met, and it’s largely because of the cast that Twilight remains watchable and engaging. Lesser actors would not keep you guessing or suspecting that they might be the perpetrator. But because we have strong actors, everyone is a suspect.

Twilight is a watchable neo-noir, although due to its repetitive and unsatisfactory nature, it’s not necessarily a must-watch. It’s missing that emotional connection which would help us through the slow moments. Our minds are constantly working, attempting to figure out who committed a crime — if anyone did — but the payoff is much less enjoyable than you hope. It’s a good film that will pass the time, even if a couple of key choices stop it from getting a full recommendation.

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