FILM REVIEW: Dying of the Light (2014)

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Dying of the Light (Theatrical Action Film, 2014, 1 hours 34 minutes).

This middling Nicholas Cage vehicle is a spy versus terrorist action flick. The twist, to the extent there is one, is that the principle antagonists are both terminally ill. Cage does a very respectable job playing “Evan Lake,” a veteran CIA agent who never quite got over being tortured by Islamic extremist “Banir” 22 years ago.

Besides a few flashbacks, the one outward reminder of Lake’s ordeal is his mangled right ear. But the emotional scars run far deeper. He was never able to accept that an unidentifiable body that turned up after he was rescued was, in fact, Banir. And of course, he’s proven right now. The terrorist was known to have an exotic inherited blood disorder that only becomes dangerous in mid-life (i.e. now). Sending one of his associates to bribe a doctor in Romania for an experimental drug treatment fails, but shows Banir is still alive.

By now Banir (played somewhat more subtly than your typical terror baddie by Alexander Karim) is a virtual invalid, hiding out with a handful of followers outside of Mombasa, Kenya. He is dying–even the drug he seeks would only put off the inevitable–and the CIA establishment (ah, the dreaded, bureaucratic ESTABLISHMENT!) feels he’s no longer a threat. Their unspoken attitude is: Just let the bastard die quietly and forgotten.

That doesn’t sit well with Lake, who is himself suffering from a degenerative brain disease he tries unsuccessfully to hide it from his superiors. He is determined to make Banir pay for his crimes (and not incidentally, for injuring him). Lake cloaks it all in his personal idea of justice, but his personal obsession is undeniable. Rather than accept offered medical retirement, Lake determines to track down and eliminate Banir.

A hero-worshiping younger agent, played competently by the late Anton Yelchin, goes rogue alongside Lake. “Milt” functions as the inevitable sidekick/caregiver for Lake, who is subject to an array of recurring (and gradually worsening) symptoms. The predictable old love interest who helps out in Romania is played by Irene Jacob–not badly, but not memorably either (the role is little more than a plot device, further humanizing the hard-nosed and embattled Lake).

Tracking Banir to east Africa, Lake dons a disguise (fake facial hair and a temporary ear job) to impersonate the doctor the terrorists now are blackmailing into making an intercontinental house-call. Lake insists on confronting his old enemy alone, with oddly inconclusive results. The two sick men do no more than talk, but this is (of course) the solemn lull before the proverbial storm.

Young Milt picks Lake up later and the dying agent lies about finishing the job, even claiming satisfaction in having made Banir “scream.” He can’t bring himself to admit that, faced with Banir’s condition, he couldn’t bring himself to kill.

But rest assured, his enemy will correct that very shortly.

The last couple of Banir’s loyal thugs attack the agents with automatic weapons. They botch the job, opening fire at excessive range from across a hotel pool. They hit Milt and kill/wound plenty of innocent bystanders in the resulting firefight. Lake kills both gunmen and immediately sets off alone to give Banir more of the same (without, by the way, bothering to check his young partner’s condition).

Snarling to Banir that his men “shot my friend,” Lake takes fatal action once more. Then, driving back to the city at night, Lake is either mesmerized by an oncoming truck’s headlights or impulsively decides to end it all without any thought for the other driver’s safety.

In any case, he swerves into the opposite lane for a head-on climax to his story (and, I guess, sort of justifying the movie’s title).

The injured Milt survives and in a silent scene, visits Ms. Jacob’s character to hand over a previously alluded to keepsake.  That basically by-the-numbers stab at a tear-jerking moment is followed by a voice-over reenactment of Lake’s stirring speech to a crop of rookie CIA spooks from the film’s start. Very rah-rah and all about the “values” these undercover heroes stand for and protect.

Honestly, that last sequence struck me as misguided, pseudo-patriotic slop. The lead character’s actions throughout are so largely self-directed and personal that all the higher ideals expressed come off as a mere facade. It’s the worst and most dishonest moment in a profoundly average script by longtime mediocre writer/director Paul Schrader.

In sum, Dying of the Light is a mostly serviceable action drama that doesn’t rise above numerous other examples of the genre.

 

 

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