Sunday 4 January 2015

Mis-Taken: "Dying of the Light"

"You will be prone to over-reacting, wild mood swings... that kind of thing," declares a trained medical professional to Evan Lake, the CIA veteran he's just diagnosed with early-stage dementia. As Lake is being played by Nicolas Cage, you and I might have already accepted that as something of a given. Given dad specs, a grey rinse and a mangled prosthetic ear (the result of nasty pre-credits torture in Beirut), and working under once-serious director Paul Schrader, Cage might just have seen something legitimising in Dying of the Light's central role: that of a man gathering what remains of his memory to jet off first to Bucharest (quickly surpassing Toronto as the Kingdom of Fabled Taxbreaks) and then Kenya (or a version thereof) in pursuit of his erstwhile torturer, a terrorist who's subsequently gone into hiding with anaemia.

Schrader's script thinks it has a clever idea in asserting some equivalence between these two variously labouring workhorses, but on screen it translates to a lot of arthritic shuffling around sludgy-looking car parks and farmers' markets. The film's internal movement has been a source of public conflict between producers and director, who - as with last year's The Canyons - presumably had some grand vision for this project the raw material was always unlikely to sustain. Yet the recut version bowing in cinemas and on demand this weekend suggests even the moneymen didn't really know what to do with it: what we get is a film that has the brisk running time of some Taken-style thriller, but gets choked up with leaden exposition where all the punch-ups and chases ought to be. Nobody can do anything with Schrader's big showdown, which is resolutely about a couple of ailing blokes sitting in a room and wondering what they've come in here for, although here Dying gets vaguely intriguing: Lake's dementia is evidently meant to stand for the cultural-historical amnesia of any number of American operatives blundering out into the field.

Such tantalising nuances, alas, are blown away by an utterly crass final act, which suggests either substantial reshoots or that Schrader is a hopeless director of action - either way, it's hard to see anybody getting their money's worth. Like many of the star's recent projects, Dying of the Light achieves a kind of dynamism whenever Cage has the werewithal to lose it: Lake's stroppy reaction to being forcibly ejected from the CIA's Langley headquarters, and to the poor waiter insisting he extinguish his cigarette in a Bucharest restaurant, will surely be added in due time to the ever-growing YouTube showreel of Classic Cage Flip-Outs. The rest, so cackhandedly executed it sticks the wrong accent on Irène Jacob's first name during the closing credits, deserves to be discarded altogether.

Dying of the Light is now playing in selected cinemas, and is also available on demand.

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