Dying of the Light, 2014.
Written and Directed by Paul Schrader.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Irene Jacob, Victor Webster and Alexander Karim.
Burned out CIA operative Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage) is forced into early retirement due to a degenerative medical diagnosis. Aided by an up and coming field agent Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin) he uses his limited time to track down an old adversary.
I had no inkling of the issues surrounding this film before accepting it. My feelings were guided by gut instinct and a comprehensive knowledge of Messrs Cage and Schrader’s back catalogue. Combine this powerhouse with the diversity of an Anton Yelchin, neither bona fide indie darling or status savvy franchise player and Dying of the Light becomes an interesting proposition.
Unfortunately Paul Schrader has always been revered for his screenwriting rather than any directorial acumen he might have. Segues behind the camera have tended to be unique if not always universally admired. Unfortunately for him ‘unique’ is often misconstrued as a polite word for slow, ponderous, overly dense and problematic. Horror stories surrounding his time on Exorcist IV: The Beginning, later released as Dominion with his original cut are well known. But for the record, whoever put Renny ‘Die Hard double digits’ Harlin in charge of an Exorcist film probably required an exorcism to begin with. Anyway my point is Schrader never had an easy time as director irrespective of the project. He remained and remains a screenwriter and director at odds with the system, unwilling to compromise his artistic vision for the sake of bigger box office. With Dying of The Light I hoped things would change.
So what do we have? Well to call this unengaging is an understatement. It’s a by the numbers political thriller with Nicolas Cage on autopilot. Such was the level of crushing disappointment that my interest quickly waned. From a writer of such acknowledged skill and depth comes a pedestrian espionage story, both diabolically average and spiritually vacant. Yelchin and Cage do the best with what they get, but a starkly lit interrogation scene early on is the only modicum of tension visible throughout. In light of Schrader’s minimal involvement beyond principal photography it seems unfair to hold him responsible. Combine that with the media boycott undertaken by all three players and critically we have reached an impasse.
What the studio hacks have birthed is a risible excuse for squandering millions of dollars. Nicolas Cage has done better in his sleep and Yelchin is sold down the river. He doubtless signed on for the same reasons people would buy tickets; Paul Schrader. Unfortunately for us both artistic integrity and blockbuster boom boom rarely mix and less so in the hands of Schrader’s ilk. He carries kudos like hand luggage but ultimately you get the impression that there remains an agenda in place. Schrader exists within a vacuum where social, moral and religious issues are all important within film. I imagine he sees movies as a platform designed to enlighten and educate. Unfortunately there remains an absolute truth in show business now more than ever; money matters, box office is boss and on this level Dying of the Light fails to measure up.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Martin Carr – Follow me on Twitter