Nicholas Cage is an enigma, and in his latest thriller, Dying of the Light, we get to see him at both extremes. Much of Cage’s work here is effective. He seems invested in the performance and, at times, a welcome sincerity shines through. But there’s always the danger of him tipping over from the sublime to the ridiculous . . .
In an instant, Cage can raise his voice and it all just falls to pieces, further fuelling his wacky internet persona. It’s bizarre, and it always seems to accompany his final sentences. Too many scenes start on point and then end with a laughable Cage exclamation.
In Cage’s defence, writer-director Paul Schrader (most well-known for writing two Martin Scorsese’s classics, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) doesn’t give him the best dialogue to work with and a lot of his lines just come across as clumsy. As does the plotting . . .
Cage plays Evan Lake, an ex-CIA agent suffering from the onset of a rare form of dementia who thirsts for revenge against the presumed-dead Muhhamed Banir (Alexander Karim), the man who tortured him 22 years prior. Seemingly out of the blue, Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin, making the strange choice to channel his inner Elijah Wood) stumbles across an order of obscure medication matching the illness Lake believes Banir continues to suffer from. Lake and Schultz then team up and take the fight to Mombasa, via Budapest, to try and track down Banir.
It’s a bizarre central conceit for a spy thriller and all the disease talk just feels odd. So much of the film seems desperate to play up the Homeland-esque elements; the disgraced agent, the mental illness and the Middle Eastern antagonists (Banir, as opposed to Nazir). But, there’s no commentary on US international policy, just one man’s inconsequential vendetta.
And, for a ‘thriller’, there’s a severe lack of action and suspense. A car chase, a foot chase, a bizarre mano-a-mano showdown and a final fire fight all pass with none lingering long in the memory. That is, apart from one left-field method of attack which stands as yet another example of the bizarre villain. For one, his disease ensures he has absolutely no physical screen presence and it’s not even like he has some death-to-America grand plan.
Talking of Hollywood thriller stereotypes, the movie is peppered with uncomfortable casual racism from Lake. Now, this may be a conscious decision to paint Lake as a man caught in the past, but it just ends up reinforcing the antiquated and pedestrian feel of the movie. There’s a similar question when it comes to the pacing; is it so rhythmically challenged because Lake suffers from dementia? Who knows, and who cares, quite frankly.
Dying of the Light starts promisingly enough and, for much of the running time, Cage does a fair job of playing a CIA agent out for revenge. But, that soon fades, as the focus turns to the antagonist’s disease, and there’s little to hold our interest with each increasingly bizarre plot point.
This review was originally written for Close-Up Film and the film is out now on DVD and VOD, in the UK.