On This Day: Dying Of The Light (2014)

Leon Nicholson takes a look at Dying Of The Light which received a UK release in key cities on January 2nd 2015, starring Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin.

He divides opinions about his acting ability but if there is one thing that everyone agrees on is it seems that Nicolas Cage isn’t choosy about the roles he takes on. Once a massive box office draw with films such as The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off, Cage found himself starring in movies such as Tokarev (enough said). How does he get on in Dying Of The Light? In fact, with all the controversy that enveloped the film, is it actually worth watching?

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Nicolas Cage plays Evan Lake – a veteran CIA operative whose ‘glory days’ are behind him as he concentrates on his desk job rather than working in the field. Twenty-two years previous, Lake was captured by terrorist Muhammad Banir (Alexander Karim) and held hostage and tortured for information he never possessed.  During the extraction, it was assumed that Banir was missing, presumed dead even. Lake was never convinced and has been trying to find him ever since. As a result from the torture that included repeated blows to the head, Lake is suffering from the early stages of frontal temporal dementia. Due to this, and his sometime erratic behaviour, the bigwigs in the agency deem Lake a liability.

There’s a twist in the tale however as Milton (Anton Yelchin) is privy to some intelligence that suggests that Banir may very well still be alive. So, with the help of Milton, Lake decides to investigate and track Banir down. The question that remains is will he lose his memory before he is able to finish his assignment?

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So, what we have here with Dying Of The Light is a flick that is apparently not the director’s. In fact Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin and Nicolas Winding Refn (who serves as an executive producer) started distancing themselves from it with silent protests. Apparently, there were disagreements between Paul Schrader and the execs about the final cut of the movie.  The execs claim that the director left them with an unscored, unmixed workprint leaving them no choice but to carry out post-production themselves. Schrader’s side of the story however is different as he claims he was more or less frozen out of the editing room while the execs cut the movie themselves.

At the time, Winding Refn saw Schrader’s cut of Dying Of The Light and thought it was “absolutely terrific,” praising Cage’s performance in particular. In addition, Refn thought that the re-cutting of the film an act of “artistic disrespect” and went on to say he was puzzled that the producers and distributor would want to be associated with a film whose own director will not publicly support it.

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So, is this the reason why Dying Of The Light plays out like a bland, run-of-the-mill TV movie that would have been screened on Channel 5 (UK terrestrial channel) during its infancy? Or is this just an excuse for the artistic side of the coin to blame the business side for the film’s failings? All this could be cleared up if Schrader’s cut was given a release. Until then we may never know the truth about what really happened behind the scenes of the movie.

Nevertheless, a reviewer can only look at the product that is in front of them and not what it could or should have been. It doesn’t matter that Schrader et al may have distanced themselves from the film because at the end of the day it still has their name on it. Cage, of course is the stand out performer and he does pretty well carrying the movie as best he can. Anton Yelchin’s understated performance sorts of asks the question about why his character was needed in the movie. In fact, the majority of the film just seems a little meaningless.

Why? Well Dying Of The Light suffers from a lack of tension, posseses average action pieces, bland dialogue with characters not fleshed out enough. There are a few glimpses of what may have been an excellent movie placing it as a character piece first and action flick second but ultimately the film ends up taking the dumbing down route.  Dying Of The Light is not entirely awful but there is, and was, plenty of room for improvement.

FMV Rating **



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