In the midst of all these giant Marvel blockbusters, sci-fi thinkpieces and anticipated Star Wars movies, there’s still a weird pleasure received from sitting down and watching a bad Nicolas Cage movie. It’s never failed to amuse me, always making me feel better about myself and putting me in a better mood, and Dying of the Light is no exception. As I put the disc into my Blu-ray player (I rented it from Redbox, because there was no chance of this one ever getting a theatrical release), I began to wonder if this was going to be serious Nic Cage with no flip-outs (kind of like Joe, which was a serious performance in a good dramatic film) or not. Thankfully, it wasn’t, because even though Cage can deliver good serious dramatic work (see Leaving Las Vegas and the before-mentioned Joe), it just doesn’t fit when it’s in a movie that’s terrible (Bangkok Dangerous comes to mind).
No, this is a bad Nic Cage movie in which he tries to be serious for a majority of the running time, but for a lot of it he’s just himself. Laughing loudly, screaming demands in his now-iconic voice, and trembling profusely. He plays Evan Lake, a veteran CIA agent who strongly believes that his nemesis (terrorist Muhammad Banir) is still alive after his protégé (played here by Anton Yelchin) uncovers evidence pertaining to the long lost terrorist’s medical condition. Lake takes this to his boss and is shut down. Why? Because he has been on this “he’s-not-really-dead” spiel since the supposed death of the terrorist over two decades ago.
But that isn’t the only reason the director of the CIA won’t believe Lake. It’s also because Lake is secretly battling dementia, and by battling it I mean he’s coming to terms with the fact that his brain won’t be as functional as it has been for very much longer. So, the director tells Lake to retire, in an attempt to have him move on from his obsession and to enjoy the remaining years of his life. But doesn’t this guy know that he’s dealing with an elderly CIA agent played by Nicolas Cage? There’s no chance of him sitting idle, so he takes matters into his own hands, and with the help of Milton (Yelchin), he attempts to track this baddie down by himself.
It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but sometimes you have to suspend your expectations of a “good movie” and just sit back and watch Nic Cage. He’s awesome, and in this movie he has his fair share of moments and character ticks that we have all come to love. At times, Cage brings out some things he learned while filming Matchstick Men, which also dealt with a character that had a mental issue (and it may also be his best performance), and sometimes his performance does become heartfelt (if only slightly).
But his (slightly) heartfelt performance doesn’t save the movie by any means, which contains clichéd villains with clichés motives and clichéd names. Not even Anton Yelchin can provide strong supporting work, always playing second fiddle to Cage’s character. I’ll admit that I moderately enjoyed the second half (more like the third act), but I’m not saying that it’s good. It’s just a tad better than the first, which drags and attempts to make us feel for Lake but never achieves it until Nic Cage actually tries to act in the film’s latter half. It’s hard to believe that Paul Schrader (writer of the masterful Taxi Driver) wrote and directed this piece. It offers some surprises at the end but they never feel welcome, resulting in a film that isn’t completely terrible, but bad enough. Still, if you like Nic Cage’s strange and outlandish antics, there’s enough here to pass the time.
1 hr. 34 mins.
Rated R for violence and language
Starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin
Written and directed by Paul Schrader