It initially doesn’t seem clear as to the reason that Nicolas Cage would be hired to play a veteran CIA agent. He’s someone who withstood a lot of torturing, and now has a desk job because the CIA doesn’t know if he’s able to handle the rigors of the field. In all honesty, he should retire, but he doesn’t want to go because, despite what the reports claim, he knows that the man who tortured him is still out there, 22 years later. Again, does this seem like a Nicolas Cage role?
Well, as we learn early on, Evan Lake (Cage) also suffers from frontotemporal dementia, which the movie tells us is different from Alzheimer’s. In short, Lake’s losing his memory and starting to go crazy. Now it starts to make sense. This type of role allows Nicolas Cage to overact, as we now expect him to. This isn’t one of Cage’s zaniest performances, but he does get to lose it now and then. What about the rest of the movie? Well, we’re not likely to ever find out what Dying of the Light was supposed to be, as its director and stars are claiming the studio took the film away and re-edited it to what we get, which is not a particularly interesting or enjoyable movie. Maybe someday the director’s cut — which is supposed to be a good hour or so longer — will come to light.
What we do get, and what I have to review, is a very mediocre thriller about a man who wants revenge on another man. The first is Lake, who is slowly growing crazy, while the other is Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim), a well-spoken terrorist who, 22 years later, is suffering from a disease that will kill him soon anyway. Lake learns about this but decides to pursue him regardless, and in doing so loses his job, because of his medical condition being potentially compromising to the CIA.
Joining Lake on his quest are Milton (Anton Yelchin), a man half his age but seemingly his only friend at the CIA, and Michelle (Irène Jacob), someone he used to know and is now his contact in Bucharest, where much of the film takes place. The plan is to impersonate a doctor and then kill Banir.
That’s … really it. It’s a simple story whose only complications come from the aforementioned dementia, and that mostly comes into play in rather banal situations, such as at night when Lake goes for a walk and forgets the hotel he’s staying at. Sure, this gives Cage a chance to overact for a bit, but you could watch countless other movies for that. I mean, the second Ghost Rider movie would be better for Nicolas Cage overacting, and would also just be more fun in general.
Dying of the Light is inept in almost all areas. Its plot is so simple that you’d think it was written by someone without the understanding of how to make a thriller, the characters are so shallow and lifeless that you can’t believe they’re real people, there’s nothing to talk about after the film’s over — it has no point, in other words — and it’s painfully dull, despite being a — and I quote (from Wikipedia) — “dramatic action mystery thriller.” It is none of that. It is boredom on screen.
There are two possible reasons that Dying of the Light is this bad. We can accept the filmmakers’ word on it, which would mean that the studio took the film and re-cut it to the disaster that it is now. That’s happened before and I suppose is as likely as any other reason. Or, the filmmakers did a bad job and are using that as an excuse. The director is Paul Schrader, whose last film was The Canyons, so you can see why it’s hard to tell. Regardless, what we can see is a film that’s awful and not worth the 94 minutes it takes to watch it.
With a simple and thin plot, shallow and uninteresting characters, a complete lack of action, tension, suspense, or talking points, Dying of the Light is a disastrous film that doesn’t showcase any of the talent involved in any light other than a negative one. It’s unlikely to affect anyone’s career — about the only one is could hurt is Anyon Yelchin’s — but it’s not something that anyone can really be proud of. Maybe that’s why it’s essentially being disowned by its creators. Hopefully we’ll get a director’s cut someday, but somehow I doubt it.