Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dying of the Light

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, Dying of the Light is the story of a CIA agent who is trying to track down a terrorist as he copes with memory loss that is worsening by the day. The film is a psychological thriller of a man trying to stop a terrorist from doing more harm only to become a liability to himself. Starring Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, and Irene Jacob. Dying of the Light is a by-the-numbers and unexciting film from Paul Schrader.

22 years after an incident that left him with a lot of bad memories and a severed right ear lobe, the film follows a CIA agent who believes that a terrorist who tortured him is still alive as he is aided by his protégé to help find this terrorist. That is the premise as a whole as it play into this man trying to stop the terrorist who nearly killed him as he is convinced the man is alive. Yet, he is starting to unravel due to the fact that he’s ill with an early stage of frontal temporal dementia as he is seen as a liability to the CIA. Paul Schrader’s screenplay does have a unique premise that seems to work on paper but it is clear that whatever ideas he had to create a thriller that is more about a man dealing with his illness and confront his past falls by the wayside into something that is more by-the-book that is expected in these political-based thrillers.

Schrader’s direction does have some unique compositions and moments that are interesting yet it is clear that whatever ideas he had to stray from convention were tampered with during the film’s post-production. Shot on various locations in Bucharest, Romania, Washington D.C. and nearby locations in Virginia, and locations in Queensland and the Gold Coast in Australia as Kenya. The film does have this worldly feel as it play into the idea of global terrorism as Schrader is also focused on the plight that CIA agent Evan Lake (Nicolas Cage) is dealing with where he would be aided by his protégé in Milton Schultz (Anton Yelchin). The moments of the two having a simple conversation are the most interesting scenes in the film yet it gets bogged down by not just some of the visuals but also these stories and scene that relate to the mission in hand.

Many of the visual elements of the film that include Gabriel Kosuth’s cinematography feel like it’s been given a polished look as whatever idea that Kosuth and Schrader wanted to do visually definitely was changed in the post-production without Schrader’s consent along with the input of one of its executive producers in Nicolas Winding Refn. The photography has something that feels way too clean and emphasizes more on the beauty of a location which is far from what Schrader wanted while its third act that include the climatic meeting between Lake and his dying torturer in Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim) should’ve been compelling but the presentation with its usage of flashback montages end up making it conventional that is followed by a big shoot out that feels like it comes from another film. Overall, the film is a thriller that plays too much into its traditional schematics forcing its director Paul Schrader to not do anything new or break away from its conventions.

Editor Tim Silano does terrible work with the editing as it doesn’t do enough to build up the suspense as well as emphasize a lot of flashback montages while not doing enough to let shots play out longer in some of the film’s conversation scenes. Production designer Russell Barnes, with set decorator Gina Calin plus art directors Adam Head and Serban Porupca, does fantastic work with the look of Lake’s home as well as the Bucharest medical building he goes to. Costume designer Oana Paunescu does nice work with the costumes as it is casual for many of the characters in the film.

Hair/makeup designer Francesca Tampieri does terrific work with the look that Lake would use to play a Romanian doctor to meet Banir. Special effects supervisor Lucian Iordache and visual effects supervisor Danny S. Kim do OK work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing that eventually add to the film’s bland look. Sound designer Trevor Gates does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere in some of the locations though it gets unfortunately drowned out by Frederik Wiedmann’s score that is mainly a low-key electronic music that gets bombastic to the point of overblown. Music supervisor Gina Amador provides a soundtrack that doesn’t stand out as it is a mixture of pop and world music that never does anything.

The casting by Carolyn McLeod is alright as it feature some notable small roles from Serban Celea as the Romanian doctor in Dr. Iulian Cornel, Silas Carson as a CIA official trying to stop Lake from doing his assignment as well as express concern for the man’s health, Geff Francis as Lake’s doctor who reveals the severity of Lake’s condition, Adetomiwa Edun as a courier of Banir, and Alexander Karim as the terrorist Muhammad Banir as this man who tortured Lake many years ago only to re-emerge as a dying figure who is eager to live so he can plot another major attack. Irene Jacob is pretty good as the journalist Michelle Zuberain as a former lover of Lake who help Lake and Schultz in trying to get information as her character is underused largely due to the post-production work to reduce her performance.

Anton Yelchin is excellent as Milton Schultz as a protégé of Lake who makes a discovery about Banir and the idea that he’s alive as he is willing to help Lake as it’s a reserved performance that has Yelchin provide strong support though he too is hampered by the post-production tampering where it feels like there’s more to his character. Finally, there’s Nicolas Cage in a brilliant performance as Evan Lake as a CIA agent who is dealing with a disease as he is haunted by bad memories where Cage is given the chance to act crazy and be wild as well as display some calm in the way he’s dealing with his fading memories though he too is hampered by the film’s post-production troubles that doesn’t do more with his performance.

Dying of the Light is a terrible film. Despite the performances of Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin, it’s a film that seems to have a good idea from someone as talented and observant as Paul Schrader only for the film to be taken out of his hands and without his input. It’s a film that should’ve felt like a thriller that is also a character study but instead becomes something that never does anything new nor does it bring any kind of thrills. In the end, Dying of the Light is a horrendous film by people who doesn’t understand the language of cinema and take it away in the hands and mind of someone as talented as Paul Schrader.

Paul Schrader Films: Blue Collar - HardcoreAmerican Gigolo - Cat People (1982 film) - Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – (Light of Day) – (Patty Hearst) – (The Comfort of Strangers) – (Light Sleeper) – (Witch Hunt) – (Touch) – Affliction - (Forever Mine) – (Auto Focus) – (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) – (The Walker) – (Adam Resurrected) – (The Canyons) – (Dog Eat Dog) – First Reformed - (The Card Counter)

© thevoid99 2019


Brittani Burnham said...

This is one I keep considering watching for Yelchin but I keep putting it off after reading reviews. I should just look for clips. lol

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Anton Yelchin is good in this but if you're aware of what happened to the film in the editing and post-production phase. You get to see that there's some material that got cut out of the film without Paul Schrader's consent as he, Yelchin, Nicolas Cage, and executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn wore t-shirts to get viewers to not see the film. I could see why. You kind of know what is going to happen and it doesn't have enough suspense. Fortunately, there is a director's cut of the film that Schrader did make under a new title called Dark but it's rarely seen.