Movie Review: “Dying Of The Light” Is A Conventional Spy Movie


Review by James McDonald

Evan Lake refuses to retire from his career in the CIA and goes rogue to hunt down a terrorist who tortured him during a mission gone awry years ago.

Paul Schrader, the screenwriter who wrote “Taxi Driver” and who co-wrote “Raging Bull”, hasn’t had very much luck with directing movies in the past ten years. Back in 2005, he directed “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” and after filming was completed, the studio decided that they didn’t like his version and completely re-shot the film with a new director in Renny Harlin. Harlin’s film was more about clichéd horror movie scares and demons who were eerily reminiscent, visually, of the first “Exorcist” movie but after it was released and flopped, the studio decided to release Schrader’s film and it got the much-needed praise it deserved as it was more about the psychological aspects of demonic possession rather than the physical, which was covered perfectly by director William Friedkin in “The Exorcist.”.

“Dying of the Light” is another movie that Mr. Schrader wrote and directed but according to a comment he made on his Facebook page on October 16th of this year, it stated, “We lost the battle. “Dying of the Light”, a film I wrote and directed, was taken away from me, re-edited, scored and mixed without my input.” Because of a non-disparagement agreement, he obviously couldn’t say more but instances like this happen in Hollywood regularly. In watching the movie, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how the finished product was supposed to have turned out but my job as a movie reviewer is to review the final version presented to me and that is what my review will be based upon. Maybe sometime in the near future, the production company will allow Mr. Schrader to edit and release the movie according to him, the film’s director.

The film starts with Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage), a CIA agent working deep undercover. He is being tortured by Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim), a terrorist that is convinced that Lake has one of his agents working within Banir’s organization. After bashing his head in repeatedly with a baseball bat, seeking this information, the Marines arrive and kill all the bad guys and Lake is eventually relegated to a desk job. Many years later, Lake is informed by his doctor, that he is in the early stages of Frontotemporal Dementia, a result of the constant beatings to his head by Banir and must make preparations for the future. Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin), a young up-and-coming agent eager for action in the field, looks up to Lake and shadows him every chance he gets.

When he receives info that Banir didn’t actually die in Lake’s extraction, he informs Lake who in turn, tries to convince his boss to let him put a team together to go after him but after being denied and subsequently fired for insubordination, he and Schultz both decide to go rogue and take care of Banir by themselves. “Dying of the Light”, as it is presented here, is the typical cloak and dagger routine we have come to expect from these kinds of movies. Mr. Cage used to be a joy to watch but he has made so many bad movies lately that he seems to have lost that spark but every now and again, he rises above the mediocre spectacles he has become accustomed to starring in and actually gives a performance that makes you yearn for the Nicolas Cage of yesteryear.

Here, he actually gives a captivating performance and when the side effects of his condition surface, hand tremors, memory loss, etc., you actually feel sympathy for him and it’s been a long time since he has evoked emotion like that. Anton Yelchin, best known as Chekov in the new “Star Trek” movies, does commendable work here and both he and Cage have good onscreen chemistry together. It pains me to know that director Paul Schrader was booted from the project before given the opportunity to present his final cut because he always brings gravity and texture to his movies that most other filmmakers could only dream of possessing. As it stands right now, “Dying of the Light” is a sufficient spy movie but I can only anticipate Mr. Schrader’s final version.

In theaters and VOD December 5th


James McDonald
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