By Sam Inglis @24FPSUK
The only interesting thing about Dying of the Light is its production history. Initially the
screenplay by Paul Schrader was to be directed by Nicholas Winding Refn and star
Harrison Ford and Channing Tatum. Some years later, the project has come to fruition
with Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin, which feels like more than a small step down.
The delay and change in casting appears to have been only the start of behind the
scenes ructions. Schrader and his cinematographer have both complained that the film
was taken away from them in post and Schrader, Yelchin and Refn have all essentially
disowned the released version of the film. I can’t blame them. It’s terrible. The problem
is that there is nothing here to suggest that Schrader’s own cut would have been any
Cage plays Evan Lake, a veteran CIA officer still convinced that the terrorist who
tortured him 22 years ago, and was apparently killed in the rescue, is alive. Just as he’s
forced to retire by his degenerative disease he discovers that he was right and he and a
young colleague (Yelchin) go rogue to track down the terrorist.
Cages role gives him an excuse to let himself off the chain on a regular basis, because
Lake’s condition causes mood swings and unpredictable behaviour. Cage, in his typical
goes to eleven fashion, interprets this as suddenly yelling. This might have been a little
more effective from another actor, but Cage, at this point, has become a living cartoon.
There’s potential here for something moving; a man having his reason to live slowly
stripped away and being angry about it, but Cage’s outbursts are outright comical, often
thanks to the dreadful dialogue. In between these moments of animation Cage is either
doddering or simply appears bored. A moment when there’s a long pause in his
dialogue and Yelchin has to prompt him to speak feels more like an outtake than a
For their parts Anton Yelchin and the far too good for this nonsense Irène Jacob (cast as
a Romanian because, well, she’s got AN accent) are completely wasted. Yelchin is
supposed to be the second lead, yet he has absolutely no personality and I get the
feeling Jacob’s role was severely cut back in post-production.
It’s tough to know who to blame for the film’s look, as cinematographer Gabriel Kosuth
has disowned the film and said his work was significantly altered. That said, the dull,
flat, televisual look is exactly what I’d expect from a DP whose work has been almost
entirely in TV movies and direct to video cheapies. Schrader, at least in this cut, stamps
absolutely no authority or discernible style on the film, put Steven Seagal in Cage’s role
and the film around him would look no different than any of his tossed off Romanian and
Bulgarian productions. Nor, frankly, would it be much less credible.
Even a morbid fascination with how far the formerly mighty can fall wouldn’t lead me to
suggest that you watch Dying of the Light. Telling people not to see it is perhaps the
only smart decision Paul Schrader made in relation to this worthless movie.
Dying of the Light is out in cinemas from January 2nd.